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Drought Relief is Needed

Today in South Dakota, much of our state is experiencing a significant drought. Ranchers are struggling to feed their livestock and farmers are concerned about their crops. In many counties, the hay and forage being harvested is yielding one-third or less of normal production. Despite recent rainfall across much of the state, these dry conditions are expected to continue into the summer.

The drought underscores the importance of the farm bill, the primary ag and food policy legislation that directs U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and is generally up for reauthorization every five years. The current farm bill runs through 2018, and ideas on how to improve the next one are already being discussed among many in Congress, especially those of us in rural states. Those discussions include the importance of safety net programs such as crop insurance and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which are designed to help farmers and ranchers during adverse times, such as during a drought.

I recently joined fellow South Dakota Senator John Thune in urging USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide timely assistance to the South Dakota counties facing these extreme drought conditions. In our letter, we asked him to be ready to provide expedited assistance to counties that will likely soon be in extreme drought conditions and eligible for assistance from the Livestock Forage Program (LFP). We also requested that CRP acres be made available for emergency haying and grazing as soon as possible due to the substantial loss of grazing and forage for feed.

Because much of the state is already experiencing D2 category drought conditions, we asked that USDA be prepared to take LFP applications and issue payments as soon as possible if and when any county reaches D3 category. We also asked USDA to open up CRP acres for haying and grazing no later than July 15, 2017, which is several weeks earlier than normal. “Timely assistance is needed in order to preserve foundation grazing livestock herds in the drought-stricken areas of our state from further downsizing due to lack of feed and forage,” we wrote.

I see Governor Daugaard today declared a statewide emergency because of the ongoing drought conditions in South Dakota. As part of the State of Emergency, the state will ease haying and transportation restrictions to assist agriculture producers. I applaud these efforts.

In South Dakota, our farmers and ranchers are not immune to challenging conditions. They’ve persevered through adverse weather before, from floods and hail to drought and windstorms. This year, however, the challenges are being compounded by the sluggish ag economy in which net farm income has fallen 50 percent in the past four years.

During these adverse times, it is important we give our producers all the tools possible to manage these difficult conditions, so that they can continue to feed a growing global population. We will continue to closely monitor the drought. Additionally, I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure these important safety net programs are preserved and strengthened as the next farm bill begins to take shape. As always, if you have concerns or recommendations, please feel free to contact one of my offices.