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Weekly Column: Ag Economy is Crucial to the Future of South Dakota

Agriculture is South Dakota’s number one industry. More than 2,000 of our state’s farms have been in the same family for 100 years. Our farmers and ranchers play a critical role in feeding and fueling a growing global population. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to have access to high quality food. Without a strong ag community, we would struggle to put food on our families’ tables. In South Dakota, agriculture accounts for more than half of our economic output each year.

Unfortunately, ag income has been declining over the past four years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), national net farm income, which is a key indicator of the health of the industry nationally, is down nearly 9 percent from last year and 50 percent over the past four years. This marks the fourth consecutive year of decline, and is mainly the result of weak prices for crop and livestock products. As we get into the 2017 season, it looks like producers may continue to see low commodity prices.

I was recently in Highmore, and had coffee with a group of farmers from around the area. Many of them shared concerns that they would end this year without being able to make a profit. This reflects concerns I have been hearing from producers in communities all across our state over the past couple of years. I share these concerns and I will continue to work diligently to make sure that South Dakota’s producers have access to crop insurance and commodity support programs in the short term. In the long term, only a return to stronger commodity prices will actually provide real relief. Also, with the new administration in place, I believe we can improve the regulatory environment for farmers, ranchers and landowners so burdensome and unnecessary rules don’t hamper production capabilities.

USDA will soon be led by a very qualified individual, the former governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue. During the first day of his Senate confirmation hearing, Gov. Perdue promised to make farmers and those living in rural America a top priority. Gov. Perdue and I both served as governors of our states during the same time period, and I respect his abilities. His leadership skills and knowledge of production ag from growing up on a dairy farm will be helpful as Congress works on the 2018 farm bill. I am excited to work with him to promote our nation’s agriculture industry and provide stability to South Dakota producers.

South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers are resilient. In their difficult line of work, they have to be. The 2017 projections from USDA show a harsh environment for producers unless crop prices rise. This hinges on a number of different factors, including economic growth and an increase in consumer demand for products. I will continue to work to prioritize South Dakota’s ag products in any future trade discussions the administration may hold. In the meantime, I would encourage farmers and ranchers who need assistance to reach out to our office and share your story. As the Senate begins work on the next farm bill, input from producers will be critically important.