Lawmakers are holding farm bill listening sessions and hearings around the country ahead of the writing of the next farm bill. With the current low commodity prices, they want to know how the new legislation can help.

At Dakotafest in Mitchell, South Dakota's Congressional delegation heard what farmers need from a farm bill to help with low prices.

"The feedback we received today was very helpful," said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. "I think folks are looking for some changes in the commodity programs so they work better for them."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said they heard the urgency about providing an adequate safety net in the next farm program, especially with farmers reeling from the drought in South Dakota. "They're in favor of updating basis. They're in favor of doing something to change or modify the five-year Olympic average, because yields have been sort of volatile depending on where you are and what year you're in," Thune said. "Ultimately, in bad economic times like what we have right now, that safety net becomes more important than ever."

As a result, there was a great deal of talk about increasing the loan rate, which Thune thinks makes sense.

"The loan rates haven't been changed in forever. It's high time that we do it, but that again becomes a budget issue, and that's an expensive thing to do," he said.

Farmers also told lawmakers they want the crop insurance program preserved.

"Hopefully we can maintain the support that the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) supplies to the crop insurance," said Dave Poppens with the South Dakota and American Soybean Associations. "That's a valuable part of our tool box ... in a time of loss."

Plus, Thune said farmers want a strong conservation title in the next farm program.

"You heard a lot of complaints from particularly northeastern South Dakota farmers on wetlands issues and then I think also expanding CRP cap," he said.

As a member of the Senate Ag Committee, Thune has offered an option to CRP — Conservation Reserve Program — in a short-term set-aside program that would not require the budget outlays the CRP program does.

The theme was much the same at the House Agriculture Committee field hearing at Farmfest in Morgan, Minn. More than two dozen people provided testimony about an array of concerns over the rural economy.

However, House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, sees more of tweak than an overhaul of the current legislation.

"Cotton has to get back into Title I," he said. "We'll have to address the dairy program, the Margin Protection Program for milk and the (Agriculture Risk Cover) County payment scheme, those are the big three."

Livestock producers also asked for a $150 million foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank. Krist Wollum, Minnesota Cattlemen's Association president, said the bank is important "so we can have access to the vaccines we need in case an outbreak were to happen in the United States. If some type of event like that were to happen in the U.S., we would be facing basically an end to our exports."

House Ag Committee ranking member and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., was surprised with testimony that crop insurance is more important than the Title I safety net or increasing reference prices.

"I think people are being realistic and realize we don't have a lot of money to do what needs to be done, and they're going to protect the most important thing and that's crop insurance," he said.

The big key is going to be finding the money for the farm bill. Conaway said the committee is facing a potential $10 billion cut based on the 2018 House budget.

"Once that's finalized — if in fact we wind up having to come up with $10 billion — then we will come up with it as all the authorizing committees will," Conaway said. "The budget committee gave me great flexibility in making that happen if that's the case. I don't really think it's going to happen, but if it does we'll make it happen."

Conaway and Peterson continue to tell farmers they're committed to getting a farm bill done by the end of the year because of the immediacy of low prices.

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