MITCHELL, S.D. — If it’s done nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has opened eyes to the importance of the food supply chain, Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson said.
Rounds and Johnson, who with Sen. John Thune represent South Dakota in Congress, spoke at a Dakotafest virtual forum on Wednesday, Aug. 19. The pandemic revealed the “choke points” in the food supply chain that many people in urban areas hadn’t previously been aware of, Rounds said.
“We’ve suddenly seen some cooperation from some folks who live in other parts of the country,” he said.
Legislation that Rounds and Johnson believe could gain more bipartisan support include efforts to require packing plants to make more cattle on the open market and to allow sales of state-inspected meat across state lines.
“There is a growing awareness of the size and scope of this problem,” Johnson said.
“This is taking care of our producers and making sure our consumers know for sure where their beef comes from,” he said.
Rounds and Johnson also said they believe any new coronavirus aid legislation will help take care of agriculture. Johnson said only about a third of ag losses were addressed in the previous legislation, which funded part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
“Whatever the next deal looks like, it’s going to have real resources for ag country,” he said.
However, they both derided what they see as dysfunction in D.C., where the “two sides aren’t even talking to one another,” Rounds said, expressing uncertainty about whether the important matters that need to be dealt with before the November general election can get accomplished.
Rounds and Johnson, both Republicans, placed plenty of the blame for partisan gridlock on Democrats. However, they did point out areas on which they disagree with the Trump administration.
On ethanol and biofuels, Rounds and Johnson said they continue to pressure the president and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to not allow any more small refinery exemptions and to follow the provisions of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Rounds said he and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been at the White House and have had President Donald Trump get Wheeler on the phone to talk about the importance of maintaining the integrity of the RFS. The White House has strong connections to the oil and refinery industries, and they need some reminding of their connections to ag and corn growers, Johnson said.
“It has cost our state and our part of the world a powerful lot of revenue,” he said.
Another area where Rounds said he has disagreed with Trump is on trade. Multilateral deals with Pacific Rim countries would have enabled more pressure to be put on China in trade matters, he said.
However, both Rounds and Johnson said recent ag product purchases by China indicate that country is trying to show that it wants to live up to its commitments under the phase one trade deal. China has purchased about 24% of the U.S. products it had committed to for the year, leaving a lot of work to be done in the rest of 2020.
“That’s pretty bullish movement in the market that we’re hoping for,” Rounds said, adding that it “remains to be seen” whether it comes to fruition.