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For those of you in the rural farm states, here's some interesting news:

Last week, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced legislation that would restore integrity and fiscal responsibility to federal farm policy. The Farm Program Integrity Act, which reflects language approved by the United States Senate in 2012, places a hard cap on farm program payments and closes current loopholes to ensure payments go to working farmers.

Due to current program eligibility loopholes, mega-farms and absentee investors can currently receive a virtually unlimited government check through farm programs.

We applaud the senators for reintroducing reform legislation that could put real limits on farm program payments and close loopholes that allow mega-farms to obtain virtually unlimited payments that they use to drive their smaller neighbors out of business. This legislation will help ensure that federal farm program benefits flow to small and mid-sized farms instead of contributing to their demise by subsidizing bigness and farm consolidation.

The bill would allow investors who provide management to receive farm payments, but it would not allow a large farm to receive unlimited subsidies by claiming each investor qualifies it for another set of payments up to the legal limit.  This is a reasonable compromise to close loopholes that have plagued farm programs for far too long. - Madison County Courier, 2/20/13

The Farm Program Integrity Act has been endorsed by the The Center for Rural Affairs, which is pushing the Senate Agriculture Committee to include this legislation in the Farm Bill.  Senator Johnson had this to say about the legislation:

“Ensuring our farm program payments are directed to the small- and medium-sized family farmers is a concept that folks from both sides of the aisle support,” Johnson said. “We face a number of difficult budgetary challenges, and establishing a hard cap on payments and closing loopholes within the program will help to reduce the deficit while also reaffirming the legitimacy of our farm programs.” - Argus Leader, 2/13/13
Johnson and his fellow lawmakers are also receiving praise from the South Dakota Farmers Union:
Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, praised Johnson and Grassley for pushing the bill, which is known as The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013.

“We had hoped that the House would’ve passed a farm bill last year rather that let the 2008 bill expire, but I’m glad to see Sen. Johnson and Sen. Grassley continue to push for a payment limit that is extremely important. This will save taxpayers money as it reduces some of the excessive payments some large operations in our country have received for years.”

One of the proposal’s most important pieces is its definition of what it means to be “actively engaged” in farming, Sombke said. “Right now, a farm could have an unlimited number of ‘managers’ who are collecting government payments, including people who aren’t really farmers at all. That isn’t right” - Argus Leader, 2/13/13

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been pushing for this bill as well:

“Adoption of the Farm Program Integrity Act would put an end to widespread abuse in farm programs,” according to NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner. “As currently structured, farm programs make mega payments to mega farms and absentee passive investors, subsidizing farm consolidation and the demise of family farms. The Farm Program Integrity Act ensures that scarce federal dollars would flow to working farmers instead of to passive investors and general partners whose primary purpose in the operation is simply to collect additional government checks.”

The bill would allow for payments to working farmers plus one additional manager per farm. This formulation, forged in the Senate last year, is a reasonable compromise to the problem of eligibility loopholes that has plagued farm programs for far too long.

NSAC and the farmers it represents urge the Senate to adopt this policy again, as it did last year, during consideration of a new farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee did not adopt these common-sense reforms, a situation NSAC hopes will change this year.

“Instead of putting an end to waste and fraud in farm programs, the House Agriculture Committee kept intact high caps and wide-open loopholes in the farm bill they voted out of Committee last year,” said Hoefner. “We want to work with the House Committee and the full House to ensure a sound and fiscally responsible farm safety net in the upcoming five-year farm bill debate. The Senate bill introduced today is an excellent place to start. The prospects for actually getting a new five-year bill enacted this year will be much improved if the dual principles reflected in the Farm Program Integrity Act -- directing benefits to working farmers with reasonable caps -- guide all farm safety net program deliberations.” - Delta Farm Press, 2/18/13

Senator Johnson has posted a copy of the bill on his website.  He also has this to say about the bill:

Beyond the hard caps on farm payments, The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 also includes a provision to begin closing the loopholes that allow people who aren’t involved in farming to collect farm payments.  The provision prevents non-farmers from being able to use the management loophole in current law.  The bill would define clearly the scope of people who are able to qualify as actively engaged by only providing management for the farming operation.  The bill will allow one off-farm manager, but only one.  Landowners who share rent land to an actively-engaged producer remain exempt from the “actively engaged” rules provided their payments are commensurate to their risk in the crop produced.  This provision will help the Department of Agriculture crack down on the general partnerships that have multiple non-farmers trying to qualify for farm payments by exploiting the management loophole. -, 2/12/13
Senator Johnson is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.  He's proven to deliver for South Dakota farmers and he's a valuable member of this subcommittee.  No word yet on whether he will retire or run again but if he does decide seek re-election, I sure hope South Dakota farmers remember his work for them in the Senate come election time.  If you'd like to get more information on the bill, feel free to call Johnson's office so you can get your Senator and Congressman to get behind it and include it in the Farm Bill:

(202) 224-5842

And if you're a South Dakota resident, you can call any of his local offices:

Aberdeen: (605) 226-3440

Sioux Falls: (605) 332-8896

Rapid City: (605) 341-3990

Originally posted to pdc on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 07:00 PM PST.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, In Support of Labor and Unions, and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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