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Passing the strongest farm bill possible

By Sen. John Hoeven

The Senate has now passed a strong, bipartisan farm bill, a vital step in delivering the tools our agriculture producers need to continue producing the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world. Prior to the bill receiving overwhelming approval in the Senate, we worked diligently to gather input from North Dakota's farmers and ranchers. Over the past year, I've held roundtables in communities across the state and hosted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, so we could hear directly from local producers about their priorities for this year's farm bill. As a result, this bill includes many of these important provisions. Now, it is imperative that we swiftly move to conference committee with the House of Representatives and bring this important piece of legislation to a final vote, and I will continue working to do just that.

Accomplishing this goal is critical, because times have been tough in ag country over the past several years. Passing the farm bill will help reduce uncertainty for our producers, who continue to face low commodity prices and many other challenges. In order to address these issues, we included provisions to help farmers and ranchers succeed in their important work. First and foremost, this farm bill maintains strong crop insurance, the primary risk management tool for many producers.

The bill also improves the counter-cyclical safety net by including a provision based on my pilot program to help ensure the fairness of Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) payment calculations. This is accomplished by prioritizing Risk Management Agency (RMA) data over National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) data, which has often been incomplete, when determining yields.

In addition to risk management, our farm bill prioritizes agriculture research, like that conducted by North Dakota State University and the North Dakota Extension Service. This work enhances the genetics of the crops we grow, helping to protect against disease and pests, while also improving nutrition. That means higher yields for farmers and a better food supply for consumers.

However, to take advantage of these programs, farmers and ranchers need to be able to fund their operations. That's why I worked in the Agriculture Committee to pass a modified version of my Capital for Farmers and Ranchers Act as an amendment to the farm bill. My amendment increases the Farm Service Agency's (FSA) Guaranteed Operation and Ownership Loans from $1.39 million to $1.75 million, Direct Operating Loans from $300,000 to $400,000 and Direct Ownership Loans from $300,000 to $600,000. This expanded credit will help ensure farmers can continue their important work, even when revenue and cash-on-hand are limited.

These are just a few of the measures we've included in the Senate farm bill to strengthen the ag economy. Among other things, our legislation will also:

■ Make wetland compliance more farmer-friendly.

■ Help to create, expand and maintain foreign markets for U.S. agriculture products.

■ Address prairie dog management on Forest Service lands.

■ Include provisions I sponsored, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to support Native American priorities, including promoting trade for tribal producers; allowing tribal colleges and universities access to USDA extension grants; strengthening tribal self-governance for USDA programs.

■ Extend our sugar policy in a bipartisan manner.

■ Enhance treatment and prevention of substance abuse in rural communities.

Farmers and ranchers are the base of the economy for North Dakota and many other states. But more than that, their success is directly tied to the quality of life of citizens across our nation. Good farm policy benefits every American, every day. Farmers and ranchers do a tremendous job delivering the food, fiber and fuel our country needs, and it is only right and appropriate that we support them, especially during these difficult times. Because of this, I will continue my efforts to begin our negotiations with the House as soon as possible and pass a strong farm bill into law.

John Hoeven, a Republican, represents North Dakota in the United States Senate.