It’s hard to meet a South Dakotan who isn’t in some way tied to agriculture.  That’s not incredibly surprising when you consider that the industry contributes $21 billion to our state economy each year.  

That contribution is important.  An economist for the state Bureau of Finance and Management recently argued that agriculture helped South Dakota weather the economic recession better than almost any state in the nation.  So, when Congress starts talking about a farm bill that will set the legislative landscape for our number one industry as well as address food policy, forestry policy and much, much more, we know we’re talking about a bill that will impact every South Dakotan’s life.

Over the last few weeks, Congress has made significant progress on the Farm Bill and we are on track to pass a full, five-year bill in the early part of next year.  We have come to a preliminary agreement on the framework of that bill and the negotiators know what reforms they’d like to make.  Now, it is a matter of making sure all the numbers add up.

To do that, the draft framework was sent to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has provided estimates on how much farm bill provisions will cost as well as the savings produced by the included reforms.  With these numbers in hand, the lead negotiators can now make adjustments to ensure all the numbers work out so that we can finally finalize the bill.  It will take a few weeks for legal counsel and budget experts to review the legislation and make sure it is ready to become law, but we’re on track to finalize a full, five-year farm bill in the early part of 2014. 

Like many reading this column today, I am frustrated with the speed of the process, but we’re making progress and many of the provisions that are important to South Dakota are remaining intact.

For instance, the proposed framework ensures supplemental crop insurance programs are market oriented.  In other words, the proposal is written so that government policies don’t sway producers’ planting decisions.

We’ve also made some meaningful reforms to the food stamp provisions that will help uphold the integrity of the program while making sure those families who need support get the help they need.

Additionally, the preliminary agreement includes support for livestock disaster programs that will help those in western South Dakota who suffered catastrophic livestock losses earlier this year.

I know how important this legislation is to South Dakota.  It impacts every single one of our families in some way or another.  We are making progress and a five-year farm bill is fully in our sights.  I’m ready to bring this bill home.

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