Thursday, May 16, 2013

Heitkamp: Bipartisan Farm Bill Gives North Dakota Producers Certainty They Deserve

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today helped pass the bipartisan 2013 Farm Bill through the Senate Agriculture Committee. Heitkamp, a member of the committee, supported the legislation because it reduces the federal deficit by more than $23 billion while making critical investments in the farm safety net, rural economic development, renewable energy, agriculture research and water retention. Heitkamp has worked tirelessly for months to shape the legislation and was able to further improve it today with amendments to the bill.

“As I have said repeatedly over the last year, my first priority is getting a long-term Farm Bill signed into law,” said Heitkamp. “Not only are we one step closer to completing the legislation, we were able to make major improvements that will make life easier for North Dakota producers. It is my hope that the House and Senate continue moving the bill forward so we can get this signed into law and give North Dakota farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to run their businesses.”

The Senate version of the Farm Bill will reduce the deficit by over $23 billion. The bill will achieve this through a number of provisions, including ending direct payments to producers. The 2013 Farm Bill also strengthens crop insurance by retaining the premium support that farmers rely upon to afford insurance. Additionally, the bill gives farmers the option to buy increased coverage to control risks.

Heitkamp amendments passed by the full Committee:

  • Improve USDA-NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance - A backlog at USDA for wetland determinations is a source of frustration for many growers in North Dakota. Giving USDA greater flexibility to address this problem through technical assistance is an important way to improve the responsiveness to growers’ needs in North Dakota. Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to the Farm Bill that passed allows USDA to determine funding amounts for technical assistance (TA).
  • Encourage Pollinator Habitats - North Dakota is the number one honey producing state in the country. Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to the Farm Bill that passed directs USDA to encourage the protection and enhancement of pollinator habitat as a part of the conservation plans voluntarily agreed to by producers. Specifically, the amendment language would encourage USDA to ensure that conservation programs are resulting in sufficient high-quality pollinator habitat for managed honey bees – habitat that includes common alfalfa and sweet clover varieties utilized effectively in prior conservation programs.
  • Study of Improvements to the Wetland Mitigation Process - Wetland mitigation is an option available to growers to give them greater control of their land. Through mitigation, growers are allowed to move wetlands from one part of their land to another part of their land to benefit growers by putting them in better control of their land and benefit the environment by creating improved habitats. Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to the Farm Bill that passed directs the Secretary of Agriculture to provide to Congress recommendations for how the processes could be improved to better enable growers to utilize wetland mitigations in a manner that benefits wildlife habitat and allows growers greater access to the wetland mitigation process.
  • Reimbursement of Fire Funds - In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has coordinated efforts to fight major wildfires using resources from multiple states. Last year alone the State Forester in North Dakota provided over $1 million dollars in assistance for out of state efforts. The state was then reimbursed by the U.S. Forest Service for the contributions made to the out of state efforts. Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to the Farm Bill that passed allows the U.S. Forest Service to continue to facilitate reimbursements to state accounts for firefighting efforts undertaken out of state.

Heitkamp-supported provisions included in the Committee-passed bill:

  • Farm Level Safety Net Program to Protect Growers – Each year North Dakota growers face challenges from factors beyond their control like flood, drought, price collapse, and the introduction of new pests and pathogens. These risks are especially threatening to new and beginning farmers that have yet to build up equity and capital reserves needed to finance a crop year. Senator Heitkamp worked with her colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to craft a farm level safety net program called the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program to help growers when they experience losses. Also included in the Farm Bill is a new program called Agriculture Market Protection (AMP) which will provide support for growers facing steep losses from price collapse. Senator Heitkamp worked to ensure that the program is available on a farm level so that it better reflects the losses that occur for North Dakota growers.
  • Creates Regional Conservation Partnership Program – North Dakotans farming in the Red River Valley face unique natural resource concerns including the threat of flooding each year. This new program will allow partner organizations and producers to build landscape level projects using a number of different conservation tools and programs to address these local and regional issues. For example, entities on the ground are working to develop a comprehensive retention plan for all of the tributaries feeding into the Red River. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program could be used to help support the water retention and flood prevention efforts underway in the Red River to improve water management and quality.
  • Funding for Energy Investments - North Dakota is home many ethanol plants and the largest biodiesel plant in North America. These job creating endeavors were in part made possible by public investments to the renewable energy sector. Senator Heitkamp recognizes that great opportunities remain for the North Dakota renewable energy sector and helped ensure that funding was provided in the farm bill to invest in research, development and infrastructure.
  • Support for Growers in Wet Seasons – One of the greatest risks facing North Dakota growers is wet conditions that prevent growers from planting their crops. Missing a planting window can be as devastating to farm family’s bottom line as draught or midseason flooding. For farm programs to function effectively as a risk mitigation tool that serves the needs of all regions of the country, it is important that prevented planting acreage be eligible for participation.
  • Agricultural Trade Promotion Programs – The agriculture sector has lead the way in increasing the export of American goods, and boasts the largest trade surplus of any sector in the economy. In order for further gains to be made to benefit our trade balance, investments must be made to encourage the development of export opportunities. The Senate Farm Bill reauthorized a number of important export programs operated by USDA that directly benefit the export activities of growers in North Dakota. These programs are the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP).
  • Livestock disaster programs – Ranchers and beekeepers in North Dakota require a reauthorization of disaster programs in order to survive catastrophic losses. The livestock disaster programs expired near the end of 2011. Senator Heitkamp worked with her colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to ensure that these programs were reauthorized and funded to pay ranchers for losses dating back to the expiration of the program.
  • The Pulse Health Initiative - The Pulse Health Initiative directs research on pulse crops directed at addressing critical health challenges facing the US and the world. The initiative consider how pulse crops such as dry peas, lentils and chickpeas can be part of a strategy to address three major goals—reducing obesity, reducing global hunger, and improving sustainability. Pulses are highly nutritious foods that are excellent sources of dietary fiber, potassium, protein and other nutrients.
  • Pulse Foods Pilot Program – An important priority for Senator Heitkamp is ensuring that students are provided with healthy, nutritious meals as a part of school meal programs overseen by USDA. Pulse foods can be a critical component of the effort to enrich the nutritional quality of meals provided to students, and the Pulse Foods Pilot Program would explore ways to increase the use of pulse crops in school breakfasts and lunches. USDA has identified fiber and potassium – two nutrients prevalent in pulse foods – as nutrients lacking in the diets of school age children.
Syndicated from ndfreepress

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