In the next 12 months, Congress will ramp up its work on the reauthorization of the farm bill, which expires Sept. 30, 2018.

With the farm economy struggling over the past four years and commodity prices down, the policy changes we enact in this farm bill are as important as ever. I’ve been talking closely with farmers and ranchers across the state about their priorities for the upcoming farm bill to make sure their voices are heard.

One major issue that I hear about time and again is that producers are having difficulty accessing necessary capital during tough times. To help alleviate this concern, I recently introduced the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Loan Guarantee Enhancement Act, a bill to assist lenders in supporting producers during periods of economic downturn within the ag sector.

This legislation would raise the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guaranteed ownership and operating loan guarantee from $1.4 million to $3 million, increased authorized private-sector loan offerings for guaranteed operating and ownership loans from $3 billion to $8 billion and raise the cap for direct loans up to $3 billion. Lastly, it would provide spending assurance, rather than have these programs depend on the yearly appropriations process.

Increasing both the individual cap for these loans and the total amount of money available for lending will allow a greater number of producers to utilize the program. The FSA Loan Guarantee Enhancement Act would more accurately reflect inflation and the increasing costs of agriculture production today and make certain lenders have the flexibility to allow farmers and ranchers to weather times of economic downturn.

If passed, this bill has the potential to immediately help farmers and ranchers in our state and around the country. This bill was crafted in close consultation with producers in South Dakota and has received the backing of the Independent Community Bankers Association (ICBA), South Dakota ICBA, the American Bankers Association and the Farm Credit Council.

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I also recently wrote to the Chairman and ranking members of the Senate Ag Committee to outline a list of priorities for South Dakota producers in the farm bill discussion. We’d like to see the federal crop insurance program adequately supported. With 17 million acres covered under this program in South Dakota alone, crop insurance is a critical tool for farmers to protect themselves and their operations. We also put in a request to establish a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccination bank to combat economic, food and national security concerns. A major outbreak of FMD would be financially devastating to our producers.

Finally, we encouraged the committee to increase the cap for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. CRP is an important safety net, designed to assist farmers and ranchers during adverse times, such as during a drought like we’ve experienced in South Dakota this year.

I appreciate the bipartisan work the leaders of the Ag Committee have been conducting, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on ways we can strengthen agriculture across the country.

Mike Rounds represents South Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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