It started with 17 hours of rain. 

Then, the temperatures dropped and the 70-mile-an-hour winds set in, creating blizzard conditions for three days. 

Hundreds of South Dakota families dug out of the snow to find that tens of thousands of cattle had walked off of cliffs, drowned in rivers, or been smothered by the snow.  South Dakota ranchers had no safety net.  They are now struggling to stay in business and some may never recover.  That is why we must have livestock disaster programs that mitigate some of the losses.

This week, I met with House and Senate leaders to begin drafting the final version of the farm bill as part of the 2013 Farm Bill Conference Committee.  I am thrilled to give South Dakota a seat at the negotiating table.  This is the first time a member of the House of Representatives from South Dakota has done so in nearly 20 years.

The Conference Committee is set up to negotiate the differences between the House’s version of the farm bill and the Senate’s.  Both chambers passed legislation this summer, but they had a number of differences that must be worked out before a final bill is sent to the president for his signature.

As a member of this Conference Committee, I am focused on providing some certainty for South Dakota producers.  One of the provisions I will be pushing for is the livestock disaster program that I authored, which was included in the House’s version of the farm bill.  This will not only guarantee that disaster relief will be available for the entirety of the next farm bill, but it will also work retroactively to help mitigate some of the damages resulting from last month’s blizzard.

Coming from a farming family, I also know how important a strong crop insurance program is to ensuring some level of certainty and I have made it clear to the Conference Committee that this must be the cornerstone of the farm bill.

Including important sodsaver provisions that protect our native grasslands and ensuring farm policy works for our Native American community are also very important components of the farm bill.

Finally, if you go to the Black Hills, we have dead and dying trees left from insect infestations that turn our forests into a tinder box. I am advocating strongly for efforts that give us the tools we need to address the pine beetle epidemic.

While there are differences in how the House and Senate believe our farm policy should look, it was clear from last week’s Conference Committee meeting that all the conferees agree we must strive for a farm bill that provides certainty from the field to the fork and the pasture to the plate.  After all, uncertainty in farm policy also means uncertainty for families at the grocery store.  Already, news organizations are reporting that without a farm bill, milk prices could rise to as much as $8 a gallon.  Not everyone may farm, but everyone eats. 

Finishing a farm bill is not going to be easy.  But I come from a farm family.  I have lost crops to hail and drought.  I have lost cattle personally, although never anything close to the magnitude of what west river families are experiencing.  I have also visited with a number of South Dakota ranchers since the October snowstorm.  I’ve seen their losses firsthand and I am committed to giving them the help they need to recover and the certainty they deserve to move forward.

It is time we finish our work and pass a farm bill.  Our producers need it, and so do American consumers.

Do you want to sign up for my E-Newsletter?