Congressional Roundup: Thune aims to close crop insurance loophole

Thune teams up with Klobuchar to expand sodsaver program nationwide

By: - May 13, 2023 1:30 pm
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, speaks after a Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, speaks after a Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, teamed up with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, to introduce legislation to discourage the conversion of undisturbed grasslands to cropland. The proposed bill expands the existing “sodsaver” policy, currently in place in prairie pothole states like South Dakota and Minnesota. 

The legislation addresses a crop insurance loophole that lets farmers substitute historical data from previously cultivated land when applying for insurance on newly converted grasslands. This loophole results in higher premiums and higher payouts for claims that do not accurately reflect the converted land’s productivity.

Typically, undisturbed grasslands produce less than previously cultivated land. By closing this loophole, the program aims to reduce the likelihood of marginal grasslands being converted to cropland.

“By applying sodsaver nationwide, taxpayers would save money, and America’s diminishing prairie grasslands would be protected, which is critical for livestock producers who rely on grazing,” Thune said.

The bill, the American Prairie Conservation Act, would:

  • Reduce insurance and disaster assistance benefits for native sod acreage tilled for crop production.
  • Establish that native sod acreage tilled to produce an insurable crop, other than hay or forage crops, is subject to lower insurance benefits for four cumulative years.
  • Require producers report tilled native sod acreage to the USDA. The USDA would be required to submit annual reports on native sod losses for each county and state.

China and trade

Thune and Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, reintroduced a resolution  they said “confronts China’s self-designation status as a developing country at the World Trade Organization.” 

The resolution says the World Trade Organization (WTO) should reform its special and differential treatment rules so globally competitive countries like China – which has the world’s second-largest economy – cannot designate themselves as developing countries to gain unfair trade advantages.

“Meaningful reforms at the WTO need to be made, and reserving special treatment for truly developing countries would be a good start,” Thune said in a press release.

When China entered the WTO in 2001, its development status was vastly different than it is in 2023, Thune and King said. China is now a major source of foreign direct investment and provides billions of dollars for cross-border infrastructure through its Belt and Road Initiative and other geo-economic projects.


Recognizing Native veterans

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, and Sen Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico led a group of 34 senators in introducing a bill to officially recognize the National American Indian Veterans, or NAIV. Rounds and Luján are members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The NAIV is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization headquartered on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Reservation in South Dakota that advocates for Native American veterans across the U.S.

The proposed legislation would grant a congressional charter to the NAIV. Charters have been granted to veterans groups representing other communities, but no Native American veterans’ organization has yet received one.

“Native Americans serve in our nation’s military at five times the national average, and this charter would give them the recognition they truly deserve and have earned,” Rounds said.

There are over 140,000 Native American veterans in the country, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rounds lukewarm on Trump

Reporters in Washington, D.C., caught up with Rounds on Tuesday after a New York jury found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s and awarded her $5 million in damages.

According to the political news website Politico, Rounds was asked about the news and said, “You never like to hear that a former president has been found in a civil court guilty of those types of actions.”

When asked if he could support somebody who’s been found liable for sexual battery, Rounds said, “I would have a difficult time doing so.”


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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.