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South Dakotans want a disaster program and payment limits in the next farm bill

Agriculture.com Staff 09/14/2007 @ 5:46pm

In many ways South Dakota is a microcosm of U.S. agriculture. Split by the Missouri River, the "West River" section of the state is dominated by cattle ranches and wheat farms. Corn and soybean production is growing in the eastern part of the state, along with biofuels production.

So when South Dakotans speak up on the next farm bill, Congress is likely to listen.

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) this week released results of a survey of farmers that shows overwhelming support for permanent disaster legislation, country-of-origin labeling and payment limitations with no loopholes.

More than 90% of the survey respondents said they want a program to deal with agricultural disaster in the next farm bill, an item on their wish list that won't make writing a farm bill easy for the Senate Agriculture Committee. The House has passed a version of a new farm bill that has language authorizing permanent disaster relief, but no new funds. Estimates of the cost of a permanent program are in the $1 billion to $2 billion a year range.

Disaster relief has the support of influential senators on the Senate committee, but its chairman, Senator Tom Harkin, said last week that he thought a new commodity program to protect farm revenue might be a better approach to helping farmers survive disasters.

Next on the South Dakotans' wish list is putting mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) into effect for red meats and produce. The House farm bill does include a compromise agreement on labeling.

A majority of South Dakota farmers and ranchers also favors capping commodity program payments at between $100,000 and $250,000 per farm each year. Senator Johnson supports a $250,000 cap, the same level as in legislation introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND). Last week, Senator Harkin said he, too, favors the Grassley-Dorgan approach to limiting payments, although he's not certain whether payments will be in the bill that comes out of his committee or added later when the bill is debated on the floor of the Senate.

Generally, South Dakota producers seem to like the current farm bill, with more than 75% saying it works very well or okay. But most also believe that direct payments should go to the operator instead of landowners.

Although many commodity groups and farm organizations have been strong supporters of new trade agreements, more than 70% of the South Dakotans said that "White House trade agreements have not worked or were only marginally working for South Dakota agriculture," according to Johnson’s staff.

The survey also showed that producers in South Dakota oppose closing Farm Service Agency offices, and want federal programs aimed at small farmers, not large corporations; 65% favor incentives for cellulosic ethanol production.

Most of the respondents are from farms that have been around for more than 50 years, including many century farms.

In a statement released with the survey results, Senator Johnson said "I was pleased by the feedback from hundreds of people across the state, making it clear that South Dakotans want to see changes made to the 2002 farm bill."

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