Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) recently sent a letter to the House and Senate Ag Committee leaders listing 15 things she wants them to include in the Farm Bill. It’s a pretty good list. The 15 things are:
Create an option for a farm-level commodity program. To ensure the program reflects the losses that occur for North Dakota growers and growers in other states with large-sized counties, it is important the option to elect into a farm-level program is provided. 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 following a disaster. The Senate Farm Bill includes a farm level safety net program, the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), to help growers when they experience losses and the Agriculture Market Protection (AMP), which will provide support for growers facing steep losses from price collapse.
Eliminate conservation compliance for crop insurance. “The Senate Farm Bill includes a provision that would make those who purchase federal crop insurance subject to conservation compliance. I request that the conservation compliance language not be included in the final bill. North Dakota farmers are already very concerned about conservation compliance and the certification of wetlands. The wetland certification process in North Dakota has suffered from a huge backlog and confusion regarding which low areas will be considered wetlands. The conservation compliance requirement for the crop insurance program could lead to payback penalties posing existential threats to family farms in North Dakota and throughout the Prairie Pothole Region,” she says.
Extend disaster programs. “Ranchers and beekeepers in North Dakota require a reauthorization of disaster programs in order to survive catastrophic losses. It is important that the strongest level of support is provided to growers. Five disaster programs were established in the 2008 Farm Bill for weather-induced losses in fiscal year (FY) 2008-2011. Both 2013 Farm Bills retroactively reauthorize four programs covering livestock and tree assistance, specifically FY2012-FY2018 for the Senate bill and beginning in FY2012 and continuing without an expiration date for the House bill,” she says.
Decouple planted acres from Commodity Title programs. “Coupling planted acres with target prices may lead to incentives for growers to make planting decisions based on the payouts offered by a farm program. For the farm safety net to function properly, planting decisions must be made based on market conditions as opposed to the promise of government payments. Nearly all of the North Dakota commodity groups have stressed the importance of decoupling planted acres from the program in order to avoid planting distortions. This is due to the fact that North Dakota manages a delicate balance, growing at times over 20 different commodities in the state and leading the nation in the production of 13 different commodities,” she says.
Authorize 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 would allow partner organizations and producers to build projects using a number of different conservation tools and programs to address local and regional issues. For example, entities 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 Basin to improve water management and quality,” she says.
Include prevented planting acreage in the farm program. “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 a farm family’s bottom line as drought or midseason flooding. A proposal has been considered in the past to exclude acres prevented from planting for commodity title program support. This would disproportionately and negatively impact North Dakota growers. For the commodity title to function 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 payments,” she says.
Fund renewable energy programs. “North Dakota is home to four ethanol plants and the largest biodiesel plant in North America. It is important that mandatory funding that mirrors the Senate-passed 2013 Farm Bill be included in the final bill. The Senate Farm Bill invests $880 million in Energy Title Programs to ensure continued momentum for the biofuels industry on the path towards American energy independence. In contrast, the House Farm Bill contains no mandatory funding for these programs,” she says.
Authorize terminal lakes buyout program. “Growers in North Dakota and throughout the country face losses from flooding in terminal lake basins like Devils Lake. The Senate-passed Farm Bill authorizes $150 million in mandatory through FY2017 and allows for an additional $25 million in discretionary funding each year. It is important that this language remain in the final bill so that resource management efforts can continue,” she says.
Authorize the Pulse Health Initiative. “The purpose of the Pulse Health Initiative is to find solutions, through research on pulse crops, to the critical health and sustainability challenges facing the United States and the world. The initiative will focus on three major goals -- reducing obesity, reducing global hunger, and improving sustainability. Pulse crops are nutrient dense foods that are high in dietary fiber, potassium, protein and other nutrients. They are also one of the few crops that fix nitrogen in the soil. Unfortunately, the lack of research on these crops has become an impediment to unlocking the potential health and sustainability benefits pulse crops have to offer. The Pulse Health Initiative was included in the research title of the Senate Farm Bill with a $25 million authorization per year over five years,” she says.
Authorize Pulse Foods Pilot Program. “The Pulse Foods Pilot Program would make school meals healthier and help create agriculture jobs in North Dakota by increasing the use of pulse crops in school breakfasts and lunches. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportion in school age children. USDA has identified fiber and potassium as nutrients of concern that need to be increased in the diets of school age children. Pulse crops provide a cost effective way to significantly increase fiber and potassium in the diet. The Pulse School Pilot Program was included in the nutrition title of the Senate Farm Bill with an authorization of $10million over five years,” she says.
Reauthorize the National Canola Research Program. “Agricultural research is critical to the advancement of agricultural production, particularly with respect to small acreage crops such as canola. The National Canola Research Program makes low cost, high yield investments and deserves full reauthorization,” she says.
Improve 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 in order to benefit growers by putting them in better control of their land. Mitigation also benefits the environment by creating improved habitats. The Farm Bill amendment that I authored which is included in the Senate bill 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, a process that is currently underutilized. This policy deserves inclusion in the final bill,” she says.
Enhance 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 responsiveness to growers’ needs in North Dakota. My amendment to the Farm Bill allows USDA to determine funding amounts for technical assistance (TA) and I request this language be retained in the final bill,” she says.
Enrich pollinator habitats. “North Dakota is the number one honey producing state in the country. The amendment that I authored, which is included in the Senate bill, 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. Pollinators are critical to production agriculture throughout the country, and this amendment deserves full support in the conferenced legislation,” she says.
Allow for 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 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. An amendment that I authored, which is included in the Senate bill, allows the U.S. Forest Service to continue to facilitate reimbursements to state accounts for firefighting efforts undertaken out of state. Given the dry years and increase in wild fires over the previous decade, it is critical that this policy is included in the final version of the legislation.