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Farm bill nears final stretch, presents new choices for producers

By Cali Owings

Forum News Service

FARGO — North Dakota lawmakers championed progress on a bipartisan farm bill throughout the state Friday.

During meetings with the state’s agricultural groups in Fargo and Bismarck, Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp outlined the bill’s highlights and implications for farmers and ranchers.

The plan cuts direct payments to farmers and instead enhances the crop insurance program by $5.7 billion and boosts other risk management programs.

It also increases security for ranchers by providing nearly $7 billion for livestock disaster programs. The funding is retroactive so it can help ranchers in western South Dakota and southwest North Dakota who lost cattle in an early winter storm in October.

The bill cuts $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a compromise from the House Republicans’ proposed $40 billion food stamp cut.

It also provides funding for support programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, renewable energy and biodiesel fuels, and ensures conservation compliance.

Both Hoeven and Heitkamp worked on the bill that was passed by the House earlier this week. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Both senators seemed confident the Senate will pass the farm bill.

Heitkamp said producers throughout North Dakota have been waiting for a long time for the certainty that a new farm bill will bring.

“In this era of divided government … we were able to do a very effective, bipartisan farm bill and it’s a good way to start out the New Year,” she said.

More choices

“It is a lot of work,” Hoeven said of the farm bill after the meeting in Fargo. “They need to implement it and move as expeditiously as they can, but obviously make sure they get it right and implement it in a way that works well for farmers and ranchers.”

Once the bill becomes law, farmers will have more choices to make.

“It’s going to give us some really interesting choices, which is what you want for businessmen, to really have the opportunity to determine what is going to work best for their operation,” Hoeven said.

One of the biggest challenges will be educating crop farmers about their two coverage options now that the bill adds a new Agriculture Risk Coverage program.

Aaron Krauter with the North Dakota Farm Service Agency said FSA offices will need to work closer with farmers and do outreach through grower’s groups to help producers choose the right “safety net” options.

“We’re going to need some time to educate producers,” he said. “Never before have we had producers having so many options.”