WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, continued to urge her colleagues to support the bipartisan Farm Bill she helped craft.
The House of Representatives passed the compromise package last week with strong bipartisan support. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on final passage of the bill, which would then go to the President for his signature. The bill reduces the Federal deficit by more than $23 billion and supports 16 million jobs.
“Through months and months of hard work, we have crafted a Farm Bill compromise that will work well for North Dakota. From enhancing crop insurance, to getting disaster relief for our ranchers, to making crucial investments in biofuels, this Farm Bill is a win for our state. I won’t rest until this clears the Senate and the President signs it, but I’m proud of what we have accomplished and know millions of farmers and ranchers around the country will be, too.”
The compromise Farm Bill includes many important priorities Heitkamp worked to include in the legislation, including:
- Reauthorize the Livestock Disaster Programs – Ranchers who experienced losses due to natural disasters will be able to recoup portions of their losses, backdated when the programs initially expired in October of 2011.
- Provide option for farm-level commodity program – Western states with large counties are not best served by county-level programs, because serious hardship for producers can be overlooked when losses are determined on a county-wide basis. For this reason, it is important that farmers have the opportunity to choose a farm level program that more effectively targets support where it is needed.
- Support farmers experiencing wet seasons – One of the greatest risks facing North Dakota growers is wet conditions that prevent growers from planting their crops. For the commodity title to function as a risk mitigation tool that serves the needs of all regions of the country, it is important that any update to production history ensures that acres prevented from planting are counted for participation in the farm program.
- Authorize buyout program for flooded Devils Lake farmers – Farmers in the Devils Lake basin have seen thousands of formerly productive acres lost due to the expansion of Devils Lake. The terminal lakes buyout program, which is authorized for the first time by the Farm Bill, will create a federal-state partnership program that may be used to compensate farmers for a portion of their losses.
- Prevent the farm program from influencing planting decisions - Coupling planted acres with target prices may lead to incentives for growers to make planting decisions based on the payouts offered by a farm program. Nearly all of the North Dakota commodity groups have stressed the importance of decoupling planted acres from the program in order to avoid planting distortions. This is due to the fact that North Dakota manages a delicate balance, growing at times over 20 different commodities in the state and leading the nation in the production of 13 different commodities.
- Authorize water retention program to address flooding in the Red River Valley – Senator Heitkamp fought to make sure targeted support will be available for multi-state, critical conservation areas like the Red River Valley.
- Fund renewable energy programs – North Dakota is home to four ethanol plants and the largest biodiesel plant in North America.
- Improve the wetland mitigation process – The bill creates a wetland mitigation bank to help farmers better manage excess water on their farms while at the same time providing improved habitats for water fowl. Additionally, the directs the Secretary of Agriculture to provide Congress with recommendations for how the processes could be improved to better enable growers to use wetland mitigations, a process that is currently underutilized.
- Enhance conservation technical assistance – A backlog at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for wetland determinations is a source of frustration for many growers in North Dakota. The compromise includes a provision to allow USDA to determine funding amounts for technical assistance.
- Enrich pollinator habitats – The compromise bill directs USDA to encourage the protection and enhancement of pollinator habitat as a part of the conservation plans voluntarily agreed to by producers.