Rep. Dusty Johnson offers update on Farm Bill during Pierre visit
The roundtable discussion with producers and conservation groups focused on the environmental programs in the expansive legislation, such as the Conservation Reserve Program. A new farm bill is set to be negotiated throughout next year.
PIERRE, S.D. — Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., offered an update on Farm Bill negotiations during a roundtable visit in Pierre on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
The stop is part of several listening sessions around the state with producers and interest groups planned in August, most of which is designated as a recess from federal legislative work.
“We only do a Farm Bill every five years, and that is the right approach. It gives our producers the kind of predictability that they need to make decisions,” Johnson told Forum News Service. “We don't want farm policy changing every election or every quarter. But it puts extra pressure on us to get it right.”
Major provisions in the Farm Bill include crop insurance and nutrition support for low-income households through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Johnson noted that movement on the bill in Congress has been slower than previous iterations due to the looming midterm elections, as the potential for undoing the Democratic majority in the House could significantly change the shape of negotiations. The previous Farm Bill, which passed in 2018, is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2023, though some major portions of the bill are authorized beyond that date.
The conservation programs in the bill, which are contained in Title II, have grown in value from $2.3 billion in 2002 to over $5 billion in 2020. The title now represents one of the largest non-nutrition portions of the legislation, accounting for around 7% of total spending.
The roundtable at the Department of Social Services building focused heavily on ways to improve two major portions of Title II: the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides incentives for long-term land retirement, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps farmers implement water and soil conservation practices on working land.
“We need to provide some flexibility to the local offices to manage the land in their area, instead of having standardized marching orders coming down from the top,” Eric Jennings, the president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, told Johnson. “And I think that’s where a lot of the paperwork comes from, is them trying to comply with these programs. Give local and state agencies the responsibility and we might have some better longevity.”
The Conservation Reserve Program is especially popular in South Dakota; the state has 1.8 million acres enrolled in the program, the third-highest total in the nation.
While most in attendance Tuesday agreed that the programs were working relatively well, the producers and interest groups at the meeting noted that rising costs would necessitate an increase in conservation spending to get the same results. Johnson made clear that the political process behind the legislation would require difficult choices in deciding what to fund.
“What you’re all saying makes a lot of sense. I just know that, out of 435 members of the House, only 38 represent a district with a majority rural population,” Johnson told the roundtable attendees. “My colleagues on the left side of the aisle want the nutrition title to be a bigger and bigger part of the Farm Bill. My colleagues on the right generally want to decrease the overall size of the pie. So you very quickly get to the point where we’re not sure if crop insurance or Title II will be able to include much more.”
Johnson was in Brookings for another Farm Bill discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 9. More events will be announced throughout the month, though the planned legislative recess between Aug. 8 and Sept. 5 will be interrupted by a House session on the Senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act beginning Friday, Aug. 12.