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Cramer column: North Dakota priorities abound in Farm Bill drafts

U.S. Rep. Kevin J. Cramer, R-N.D. (Special to The Forum)

Here's some good news for North Dakota! Our state's entire delegation was appointed to serve on the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee. This rare achievement is politics at its best and will serve North Dakota well. I look forward to meeting with the conferees to hammer out our differences and produce legislation worthy of our hard-working farmers and ranchers.

The choice between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill is really good versus good. Neither is that far off from one another on the conservation title or commodity titles and both bills maintain the status quo for crop insurance as well as the sugar program.

Along with reauthorizing these important programs, the House version of the Farm Bill repealed the onerous Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. Notwithstanding the skill demonstrated by North Dakota Attorney General Stenehjem in leading the litigation fight, the recent South Carolina court decision reinforces the need to legislatively stop this extreme environmental regulation.

As our farmers know too well, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's implementation of the Agriculture Risk Coverage Program (ARC) was materially harmful to many of our producers.

Thankfully, we have a new sheriff in town, as clearly demonstrated by Secretary Perdue's visit to Fargo just this past March.

My bill, H.R. 4654, which is a part of the House Farm Bill, simply requires the Secretary to prioritize average county yield data from the Risk Management Agency (RMA) over the National Agricultural Statistics Service where such RMA policies are offered.

Swampbuster is another notorious regulation many of our farmers and ranchers know well. My legislation, which is included in the House version of the Farm Bill, requires USDA to define minimal wetland thresholds within six months, and must apply them before they can allege wetland conversions against our producers.

Due to conversations with constituents, North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring and I, along with representatives of the RMA, spoke with ranchers about problems associated with the pasture, rangeland, and forage crop insurance instrument. The common denominator was lack of rainfall data. As a result, I had included within the House Farm Bill a requirement for RMA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to evaluate the coverage considering alternative data collection methods to improve this lack of data.

As any producer can tell you, access to capital is key to any robust operation. Both the House and the Senate versions of the Farm Bill reauthorize the Farm Services Agency's Loan Guarantee Program. Additionally, the House version increases the Farm Ownership and Operating Loan Program loan limits from $700,000 to $1,750,000.

Many of these important issues were brought to my attention during my travels across North Dakota and in my talk radio town halls. My priorities are to maintain crop insurance protections and the sugar program along with improving ARC, repealing WOTUS and getting Swampbuster back on track. I'm looking forward to working through this process to create a Farm Bill that provides much-needed long-term certainty for our ag community.

Cramer, a Republican, is North Dakota's lone U.S. House representative.