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State legislator Larry Rhoden, of Union Center and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, asks a question about the farm bill to Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, during the question and answer portion of Stallman's discussion at the opening day of Dakotafest on Tuesday near Mitchell.

Farm Bureau head: Keep nutrition in farm bill

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MITCHELL, S.D. - American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says a nutrition program should be part of the new farm bill.

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He spoke to about 40 people under a tent on the first day of the Dakotafest agricultural trade show Tuesday near Mitchell. Stallman said the American Farm Bureau Federation, billed as the nation's largest and most influential general farm organization, believes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program needs to be part of a new farm bill for lawmakers to come together to pass the overall bill.

SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, offers nutrition assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families.

"We believe those who want reform in the nutrition program need to get together and craft something that puts our nutrition programs on a better path than they are on now," Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Columbus, Texas, said during his first ever trip to Dakotafest. "But then put that back in the with farm bill. The point is, taking it out means the farm bill won't get passed. It's a political reality."

In May, the U.S. Senate passed a version of the farm bill providing funds for nutrition and farm programs for the next five years. The House rejected a similar full version of the bill in June, and then approved a version in July that focused only on farming and excluded nutrition programs.

The July vote was split largely along party lines.

"I've heard a lot of farmers say that's what we ought to do. We should just focus on just farm policy," Stallman said. "I'm here to tell you politics get worse if you do not have that combined coalition, those interested in nutrition programs and those interested in farm policies."

Since the last vote, lawmakers have been in August recess but will return to session in September. Current farm bill programs expire Sept. 30, and lawmakers have an option of extending the current farm bill for one more year.

Stallman - who took over as president of the Farm Bureau in 2000 - said the three biggest reasons why a new, five-year farm bill needs to be passed are certainty for the future, policy reform and improvement, and addressing the national deficit.

"We plan for years in advance," Stallman said. "We have to plan our machine needs, our financing needs, our land rotation, our crop rotation and look at the markets. Having certainty about government policy among all the uncertainty in weather and markets is something we should have."

He said last year's summer drought could have put many farmers in even tougher situations than they already were if it weren't for the farm bill's risk-management-based programs. Stallman said agriculture needs more policy reform improvement to lower the risk of being a farmer.

He also said reforms in a new farm bill could decrease the federal budget deficit by as much as $20 billion.

"The budget situation in this country is not good," Stallman said. "As far as I know, it's the only significant piece of legislation that has even come close to passing where we're actually talking about reducing a significant amount of spending."

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