Our Voice: Thune spies missed opportunities in farm bill

Farm Forum

South Dakota Sen. John Thune went out on a limb last week: an elected official from an agriculture state voting against, then criticizing, the farm bill.

In a bipartisan vote Monday, the U.S. Senate passed a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill.

A few things have changed since 2008, when the last farm bill was up for a vote: cuts to food stamps — which is about 80 percent of the bill, according to The Associated Press — eliminating some farm subsidies and creating a new crop insurance program, among other things.

Republican Thune suggested more cuts.

“Many of us were eager to offer amendments to the bill in an attempt to fix some of these problems coming out of committee,” Thune said in a statement last week. “However, despite more than 200 amendments being filed, including two I offered that would have saved taxpayers more than $5 billion, only 14 farm bill amendments were considered and voted on prior to final passage.”

Thune raises issues that need to be addressed.

As this farm bill moves to the House for a vote, how outdated is it? Is the farm bill, as we know it, as lean and sturdy as it can be?

We suspect not. The subsidized crop insurance program surely benefitted the small family farmers who truly lived season to season, year to year. But according to the 2007 USDA agriculture census, only 188,000 farms out of 2.2 million accounted for 63 percent of sales of agricultural products. And that trend continues.

“Agriculture has changed over the past two decades, with crop production becoming more efficient and increasing yields,” Thune wrote Friday. “Farmers are keeping up with the latest technology using satellite steering systems for their machinery and applying seed, fertilizer, and chemicals with pinpoint accuracy and precision.”

Unfortunately, though the farm bill is passed every five years, it came as a surprise to lawmakers, who had to extend the 2008 bill to Sept. 30 of this year.

Special interests and politics get in the way of truly looking out for farmers.

Might we suggest Thune start crafting a smarter farm bill for a vote in 2018?

— American News editorial board