Former lawmaker says farmers are important to the world

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Farm Forum

Farmers will need to feed nine billion people worldwide by 2050, so it’s up to the Farmers Union to continue to lead the push for sustainable agriculture and healthy environmental policy.

That was the message that former U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin delivered on Feb. 15 at the 98th annual South Dakota Farmers Union Convention, held at the Ramkota Hotel and Convention Center in Aberdeen.

“We have to help feed a hungry world,” she said.

Herseth Sandlin, who was the former executive director of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation and the featured speaker on the evening of Feb. 15, gave an impassioned speech about the state of farming today and how few people across the country truly understand the importance of farmers and the challenges they face.

There is not much more usable acreage in America that isn’t already in production, so policies and innovations are needed to enhance the productivity of farms in South Dakota and throughout America to ensure the future, Herseth Sandlin said.

Farmers Union has continued leading the way in ensuring that productive family farms that are sustainable and environmentally friendly can exist in South Dakota and throughout America, but there are still challenges ahead, she said.

The Farmers Union has a focus on young people that welcomes and enables young leaders to have a positive impact in so many aspects of society, she said.

The Houghton-area native and Groton High School alum also spoke about her career as a U.S. House representative for South Dakota. She said most professionally rewarding experience during her time in Congress, from 2004 to 2011, was helping craft and pass the 2008 farm bill. Provisions in that bipartisan bill helped keep farmers afloat despite terrible drought conditions and the sluggish economy, Herseth Sandlin said.

Knowing firsthand how valuable that bill was, she was strongly disappointed with the inability of Congress to put aside partisan politics and pass another multiyear farm bill last year, instead opting for a short-term fix that leaves many issues unresolved, she said.

Herseth Sandlin said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was directly responsible for not having the bill passed because he refused to even bring it to the House floor and schedule a debate on it, even though it was approved by a bipartisan committee.

That decision, which she said was because Boehner had ideological issues with certain aspects of the bill, resulted in both parties pointing fingers at each other while nothing was achieved, Herseth Sandlin said.

“He felt the bill needed more reform, well, influence it,” she said after her speech. “Bring it to the floor and make amendments to it.”

Herseth Sandlin said she was told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to make it a top priority in the future. Herseth Sandlin hopes that is true and that ideological differences don’t wind up harming the family farmer.

It is the responsibility of the Farmers Union to keep doing its best to talk about the needs of farmers and make sure policymakers understand how vital farming is to the nation, she said. Herseth Sandlin, who now is employed in an executive position at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, she said looks forward to continuing to work alongside the Farmers Union, even if she is no longer with it in an official capacity.

The convention was a two-day event that started Feb. 15 and continued the next day. Other events, all at the Ramkota Hotel, included a panel discussion on the future of public education and an annual fundraiser, “A Night on the Prairie.”