The combination of a relatively strong agricultural economy and a move to cut trillions from the federal budget could have a dramatic impact on the next farm bill, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem told agricultural leaders on Monday in Rapid City.
“Because of the good farm economy, this farm budget is a huge target right now for cuts,” Thune, R-S.D, said at the Central States Fairgrounds while meeting with agricultural leaders. “Agriculture has already taken a big hit. Everybody is going to have to take a haircut because of the fiscal situation, but we need to be proportionate, agriculture shouldn’t take a disproportionate share.”
The comprehensive omnibus bill will be taken up in 2012 and replace the $288 billion bill passed in 2008.
Thune said some popular programs – like the Conservation Stewardship Program, which has a 10-year budget of $12 million – are likely on the chopping block. The program is designed to protect natural resources by encouraging farmers and ranchers to enroll and meet stewardship criteria.
Jeff Smeenk, vice president of the South Dakota Cattlemen, questioned the cuts for the conservation program that Thune said “has a huge bull’s-eye on its back.”
“For a nation that wants to go green, I would hate to see a program cut that rewards producers that are conservation-minded,” he said. “It helps people install practices that are good for the environment.”
Noem, R-S.D, said the agriculture appropriations bill and other indicators point to an uncertain future for farm bill programs that help farmers through tough times.
Ron Jeffries, the general manager of the Central States Fair, called for more local control and input for federally funded programs that affect South Dakotans.
“We oftentimes are impacted more severely by people that have nothing to do with South Dakota, but they want to act on our behalf,” Jeffries said. “These people here are good stewards of the lands, forests and animals, and we need to have our own destiny more locally controlled with less regulation, less oversight.”
Thune said the complaints about agency overreach, particularly concerning the Environmental Protection Agency, are common in South Dakota. He said more agency regulations exist now than he has seen in his six years as U.S. senator and that Democrats don’t seem inclined to change the culture in Washington.
“It’s a numbers game. The Senate doesn’t have the votes right now,” Thune said. “We can pass a resolution of disapproval, but it needs majority from both chambers and to pass the president.”
Noem said while the complaints about regulatory oversight are not unique, they have intensified in recent months as the budget-cutting debate heats up.
Steve Clements, president of the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association, asked Thune and Noem if funding could be restored for an aerial depredation program that was recently cut.
“It’s going to be ugly in the next few years if it doesn’t get funded,” Clements said of coyotes that can kill hundreds of sheep in a year.
A Thune staffer said funds should be available in the future but likely will come from another program.
Ron Frederick, executive director of the South Dakota Beef Industry Council, said another concern is the aging population of ranchers and the difficulties that young ranchers have getting started in the business.
“It’s so much paperwork to get started, too. Young farmers don’t want to go in and get the loans,” he said. “If we could streamline that a little bit, it wouldn’t be so intimidating.”
Thune said he left the meeting with some more anecdotes from South Dakotans that can be valuable when debating the need for regulations.
“The biggest takeaway is the incredible amount of overregulation and how it’s making it more difficult and more costly for people who make their living off the land,” he said. “It impressed upon me the importance of continuing to fight the fight in Washington to make things less complicated and less costly.”
Contact Nick Penzenstadler at 394-8415 or email@example.com.