Agriculture and the Farm Bill
Agriculture remains the top industry in North Dakota, with our state leading the nation in the production of a variety of commodities, including flaxseed, canola, durum wheat, spring wheat and dry edible beans. Our farmers and ranchers do a tremendous job providing us with the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked to pass into law a strong, long-term farm bill for our producers and continue working to ensure the farm bill is implemented effectively and efficiently for our farmers and ranchers. I also continue working to help our producers to meet challenges, including flooded farmlands and rail shipment backlogs and delays.
Strong Long-Term Farm Bill
As a member of the farm bill conference committee, I worked to pass into law a strong, long-term farm bill to provide our farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to succeed. The farm bill provides good options for producers to manage risk with strengthened crop insurance, strong support for our livestock producers, while at the same time saving $23 billion dollars. I worked to include North Dakota priorities in the farm bill, including:
- Enhanced Crop Insurance: The farm bill includes a strong safety net for producers. The legislation not only retains current individual crop insurance, but enhances crop insurance by helping farmers improve their yield history under the current program and by creating a new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO). The SCO enables producers to purchase a supplemental policy beyond their individual farm-based policy.
- Revenue Loss Protection: In addition, the bill features a new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program that covers assistance for multiple-year losses. The program works with crop insurance by covering between 76 and 86 percent of a producer’s historic five-year average revenues based on price and yield.
- Price Loss Coverage: Producers will have a one-time option to select a counter-cyclical commodity program or the revenue coverage option provided by ARC.
- Renewing the Sugar Program: The farm bill extends the sugar program in a bipartisan manner, ensuring that American producers have a level playing field in the world sugar market.
- Renewing the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP): The bill renews the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) for the life of the farm bill and provides coverage for the current fiscal year, since the programs expired in 2011. It covers 75% of the value of the animals lost with a high aggregate limit of $125,000.
- Conservation: Farmers and ranchers have a vested interest in good stewardship of their land. The farm bill includes good conservation tools. Though the bill ties conservation compliance to crop insurance, I worked to include a proposal to make sure this new requirement is not retroactive, as well as report language encouraging the Secretary of Agriculture to use an acre-for-acre ration for wetland mitigation and funding to help farmers with mitigation.
- State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Program (SAFE): The conference agreement includes report language encouraging the Secretary of Agriculture to allocate a greater number of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to programs like SAFE, which allow producers to create habitat that is beneficial for wildlife. This is a good program for both farmers and sportsmen because it will allow farmers to optimize CRP acreage to encourage wildlife populations. States like North Dakota have lost CRP acreage, which has a reduced habitat for a number of sports species like deer and pheasants. Combined with North Dakota’s PLOTS and Coverlocks programs, which make private lands available to hunters, the SAFE program can create more habitats to increase wildlife populations and hunting opportunities.
- Ag Research: The farm bill includes strong support for agricultural research, like the work done at North Dakota State University and the North Dakota Extension Service, to enhance crop genetics and production.
- Rural Water Management: The farm bill includes rural water management and flood protection. It includes $500 million for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that can be used in part to support flood protection in the Red River Valley, as well as other conservation, rural development and energy programs.
- Corn Test Weight: The bill includes my corn test weight amendment, a provision that enables growers to get actual market price for their crop by extending the 60-day window for settling claims to 120 days.
- Energy Funding: The bill maintains the Senate-passed energy funding levels of $880 million to fund core programs that are cost-effective job creators, accounting for more than tens of thousands of jobs saved or created over the last decade. The set conditions that allow farmers and innovative businesses to grow the rural economy, while making America more energy independent.
- Blender Pumps: The legislation provides consumers with more choices at the pump by retaining USDA’s ability to fund blender pumps to help address the blend wall issue.
- Pulse Health Initiative: The bill includes the Pulse Health Initiative which would support expanded research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and chronic disease.
- Deer Initiatives: Includes funding to help with deer research and extension grants to help treat parasites and diseases including chronic wasting disease.
- Beginning Farmer: The conference agreement continues support to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.
- Alfalfa and Forage Research Program (AFRP): The bill reauthorizes AFRP to provide research to improve alfalfa/forage yields, persistence, harvesting and storage of alfalfa, estimates of forage, quality and breeding.
Agriculture Rail Shipments
Beginning in the spring with fertilizer shipments and continuing through the autumn harvest season, I have been pressing the railroads to move agriculture products in a timely and efficient manner to meet the needs of North Dakota producers. We have been working with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to ensure the railroads provide accurate reports on shipping delays and are catching up on backlogs. In meetings with the railroad companies, I have pressed them to not only catch up on backlogged shipments, but have received commitments that they will make infrastructure investments to ensure that we eliminate delays in the future and meet the needs of our state’s growing economy.
Water Bank Program
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I worked to provide funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Water Bank Program, which allows producers to enter into 10-year agreements to voluntarily protect wetlands and flooded agricultural lands in return for annual payments. This program provides assistance to North Dakota producers, especially in the Devils Lake Basin, who face challenges from ongoing flooding and rising waters on farmland.
Preventing EPA Overreach: the Proposed Waters of the United States Regulation
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, I am leading an effort to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule by preventing any federal funding from being used to implement the final rule. Additionally, I am also cosponsoring and pushing for Congress to pass the Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014, legislation that would prevent the EPA and Corps from finalizing the final rule.
The proposed Waters of the U.S. regulation would expand federal authority under the Clean Water Act and broaden the definition of the “waters of the United States.” The proposed definition could apply to a countless number of small wetlands, creeks, stock ponds and ditches that are typically regulated at a state level. This expansion of the EPA’s regulatory authority would have significant economic impacts for property owners who would face new federal permits, compliance costs and threats of fines. We need to block the Waters of the U.S. rule because it would have a damaging impact not only for ranchers, farmers and small businesses, but also on construction companies and the N.D. Department of Transportation as they work to build infrastructure to accommodate the area’s rapid growth.