There is much at stake for South Dakota farm families as the next Farm Bill begins to take shape. In the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress significantly improved the safety net for family farmers and ranchers over what the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" bill had created. The 2002 bill increased funding authorization for important conservation programs, included an energy title for the first time, and authorized a number of programs to help grow rural economies.
In 2001, when the last Farm Bill was being debated, America enjoyed a projected multi-billion dollar, multi-year budget surplus. Those surpluses have since turned into a record budget deficit, with those opposed to farm programs using the budget situation to argue for significant cuts in the 2007 Farm Bill. This sentiment is clear as we are currently waging battles to secure disaster assistance for past years' production losses.
The challenge for the bipartisan coalition of farm state representatives will be to protect the overall 2002 funding level which is fair and equitable and has provided an important safety net for family farmers. However, given the realities of the federal budget, and a growing antipathy by some in Washington towards farm programs, we'll have our work cut out for us as we work to craft a fair farm bill that does right by South Dakota producers, rural families and communities.
That's why it's so important that South Dakota producers have a voice in crafting the 2007 Farm Bill. Over coming weeks and months, I will be attending a series of House Agriculture Committee field hearings that are designed to gather input from producers across the country. I am pleased to announce that South Dakota farm families will have the chance to make their voices directly heard at the hearing that I am hosting on July 31 in Wall.
I hope many South Dakotans will be able to join me and other members of the House Agriculture Committee at these hearings. But because I know that may not be possible for many folks, I want to make it as easy as possible for them to have input.
I have created a special form on my Web site, www.house.gov/herseth, as well as a toll-free line, (866) 371-8747, so that South Dakotans can register their input and share their ideas. I strongly encourage any South Dakota residents to visit my Web site or call my office to get more details about the hearings or to pass along personal thoughts and opinions about the 2007 Farm Bill.
It's my hope that South Dakotans will reach out over the coming weeks and months to share their concerns, suggestions and opinions about what the new Farm Bill should look like. South Dakota has much at stake as Congress deliberates a new Farm Bill, and these hearings are an important part of our efforts to ensure we are treated fairly.