In 1963, more than 200 of the nation’s 435 congressional districts were defined as rural. Fifty years later, just over 30 districts carried that same distinction. It’s a shift that has dramatically changed the context in which federal policies are debated – a shift that requires rural representatives to fight harder than ever to be heard.

I was proud that despite the representation gap, the recently passed tax reform package reflected many of the priorities producers have shared with me over the years. More specifically, the newly enacted legislation allows for immediate expensing and enhances cashflow management tools. While I will continue to fight to fully and permanently repeal the Death Tax, tax reform does double the exemption level and maintain a stepped-up basis. Most notably, we have created a 20 percent small business deduction that many farms, ranches and agricultural co-ops will benefit from. 

With tax reform complete, the next big item for agriculture will be the Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill, which I helped negotiate, strengthened crop insurance, enhanced commodity programs, and improved livestock disaster assistance, among other South Dakota priorities. But improvements can still be made. 

Over the last year, I’ve worked closely with the House Agriculture Committee to begin setting our priorities and introduced a series of reforms I’ll be fighting to include.

In July, I introduced the Donations in Rough Years (DRY) Act, which would permanently allow the hay harvested on certain CRP acres to be donated to farmers suffering from drought or fire. These natural disasters can leave thousands of acres bare, while farmers and ranchers elsewhere are forced to destroy good hay. We saw that happen too often last summer. With this commonsense provision, we could better use available resources.

At the same time, I’m pursuing reforms to the wetland determinations process. Waiting years before knowing whether a person can improve their land without jeopardizing a wetland or their participation in farm programs is a costly delay. My proposal would enact permanent reforms to make the determination process more efficient, accountable, and transparent. 

Additionally, I’ve introduced the Fair CRP Payments Act, which would ensure CRP rental payments accurately reflect the current cost of renting farm ground. And after the success of the 2014 Farm Bill’s sodsaver provisions in the Prairie Pothole Region, I’ve proposed expanding the program nationwide to better protect native grasslands.

Most recently, I offered legislation to improve the Farm Bill’s Commodity Title. This Title is critical for many reasons. First, it provides an important safety net to producers. Additionally, by building programs like this into the budget rather than doing crisis-by-crisis emergency spending, we can better predict financial needs and avoid deficit spending.

The 2014 Farm Bill included two new commodity programs: Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC). During the implementation, USDA elected to prioritize county yield data from its National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which has proven unreliable in many cases. My legislation would direct USDA to prioritize crop insurance data instead, which is a more dependable source.

Given the significant representation gap in the House, I’ll also need to spend part of 2018 educating those from urban and suburban areas about the need for a strong Farm Bill. My main message? While not everyone farms, everyone eats. It seems rudimentary, but people forget. 

Our farm has been in the family for more than a century. We’ve survived bad droughts, bad floods, and bad federal policies. While we can’t change the weather, we can change policy. Tax reform did a lot to help producers, and I’m hopeful the work we do on the upcoming Farm Bill will complement those efforts and help more American farms and ranches last a century more.

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