- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A massive, five-year farm bill set for a Wednesday floor vote in the U.S. House offers important safety nets for South Dakota farmers and ranchers, legislators and advocacy groups say.

The deal reached by congressional leaders on Monday would reopen avenues of federal support, allowing ranchers devastated by an October blizzard to apply for emergency relief and support. The storm impacted more than 600 farmers and ranchers, some of whom lost more than half their herds.

U.S. Rep Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said the livestock program would reimburse producers up to 75 percent of the fair market value. The bill raises the cap to $125,000 for a single producer and $250,000 for a married couple.

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said farmers and ranchers would be compensated for losses in 2012, 2013 and every year going forward.

“If Congress passes the farm bill, livestock producers will not have to worry if they have some form of protection for natural disasters,” Sombke said.

Farm-state lawmakers have been working for more than two years to get a new five-year farm bill passed.

House passage in particular is far from assured. Conservatives in the House have bucked party leadership repeatedly on the bill, saying it does little curb government spending and does not make significant enough cuts to the food stamp program.

The bill would still heavily subsidize major crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton. But it moves many of the subsidies into insurance programs and eliminates so-called direct payments, the $4.5 billion-a-year subsidy currently paid to farmers whether they farm or not.

Lisa Richardson, executive director of South Dakota Corn Growers Association and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, said the bill’s commodity title gives farmers a choice between two safety nets: a revenue-based agriculture risk coverage program or a price-loss coverage program. The decision can be important for growers of crops such as corn, for which natural disasters such as floods and droughts can cause fluctuations in yields.

“And they have to make that decision right away, so there’s going to have to be a significant amount of education,” Richardson said Tuesday.

Cory Eich, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, said the bill is far from perfect for ranchers, as it doesn’t include language to fix concerns with country of origin labeling or live cattle marketing restrictions. But the association decided to support the legislation because its concerns were ultimately outweighed by the disaster assistance program and incentives to maintain native prairies, said Eich, a cow-calf producer from Canova.

The bill contains cuts to the food stamp program - $800 million a year, or around 1 percent - for Republicans who say the program is spending too much money, but reductions are low enough that some Democrats will support them.


Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report from Washington.


Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ddlammers

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