SIOUX FALLS -- South Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House defended the farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday, saying it will help South Dakota farmers and ranchers while making sure food stamps go only to people who need the help.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who serves on the Agriculture Committee, said she would still like to see some changes in provisions that provide a financial safety net for farmers but the bill includes some good things for South Dakota.
Her opponent in the November election, however, said House committee's version of the bill makes "draconian" cuts to food stamps, provides inadequate support for developing ethanol and other biofuels and favors Southern rice and peanut farmers over South Dakota corn and soybean farmers.
Democrat Matt Varilek also said Noem voted for a provision that could eventually hamper efforts to have meat carry labels identifying the country in which it originated.
Noem said the bill includes provisions she has promoted to extend livestock disaster payments, encourage protection of native sod and grassland and streamline the process of fighting the mountain pine beetle infestation that is killing trees in the Black Hills.
The House committee bill differs from the Senate measure passed three weeks ago by preserving a price support program that pays farmers when prices fall below certain levels. That target price system is favored by Southern rice and peanut farmers.
Corn and soybean farmers prefer a program, included in both bills, that would compensate them for modest revenue losses before subsidized crop insurance kicks in.
Noem said she does not support target prices, and in that regard, prefers the Senate version of the farm bill.
"The No. 1 priority for producers in South Dakota that I've been hearing for the last couple of years has been that crop insurance needs to remain strong," Noem said. "That safety net is just critically important when you live in a state like South Dakota where we face a lot of extremes and people take a lot of risk to put their crops in every year."
Varilek previously said he supported the Senate version of the financial safety net, including a strong crop insurance program. He also has said it should limit payments to large farm operations and instead focus on helping more modest-sized family farmers. Those making more than $750,000 a year in adjusted gross income should have to pay a bigger share of the cost of crop insurance, he said.
Varilek said a provision requiring the Agriculture Department to file a report to Congress on its compliance with the World Trade Organization could be used later to hamper the labeling of meat to indicate its country of origin.
The Democrat also said he favors the Senate bill's more modest $400 million a year cut in food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The House version would save $1.6 billion a year by tightening eligibility rules for food stamps.
Noem said the House committee's bill would cut food stamp spending by eliminating practices in some states that waive income and asset limits for people getting other welfare benefits or that give people minimal heating aid so they are eligible for food stamps.
"We truly believe this program needs to go to the people who really need it," she said. "We want to make sure it's getting into the hands of people who are hungry and need the help."