Sen. Tom Daschle's (search) proposal for a new federal agency that would cater to small farms is "borderline laughable," his Republican opponent, John Thune (search), said Monday.

Daschle announced earlier in the day that he would try to create a Small Farm Administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency would represent small farms that try to compete with large corporations, he said.

The agency would be covered by the USDA's budget, according to Daschle. It would help farmers and ranchers get loans and have a voice in government just as the Small Business Administration helps private companies, he said.

"We have 100,000 employees at USDA," Daschle said. "Surely, we have a few that could be dedicated directly to long-term viability of small farms and ranches."

Thune dismissed his opponent's idea as politics.

"That would be a first, to create a new agency without any additional cost," Thune said while campaigning in Onida. "I can't believe it's the best he can do. It's just an election-year stunt designed to buy votes."

The result would be bigger government and higher taxes. "It's his answer to everything," Thune said of the Senate Democratic leader. "What farmers need is a market."

Larry Birgen, who farms near Beresford, said such an agency would be a mouthpiece for small farmers and ranchers.

But George Knock, 84, who has farmed near Tea for 70 years, said bigger government is not the answer. "I think you've got to do it all for yourself if you want to make any money," he said. "It seems like the government isn't going to help you that much."

Thirty years ago, South Dakota had 45,000 farms and ranches. Today, the number is 31,600, according to the USDA.

Rural life is at stake, Daschle said. "We're going to reverse the trend. Something has to be done."