Livestock disaster program backlog

There’s a big backlog of producers waiting to get livestock disaster payments from the new farm bill, especially in drought-stricken states.  Lawmakers at a recent House Agriculture committee hearing complained to USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse about it. Scuse told them that the USDA is doing what it can, “We’re looking at not only hiring temporary staff and reallocating resources within the state but we’ve also put together ‘jump teams’ from other states that don’t have livestock to go into those states where we do have a backlog and try to deal with that backlog and get it taken care of as quickly as possible.”

But, Scuse said it will take more time because the agency is still receiving a “tremendous amount” of applications.

Concerns shared about Farm Bill implementation

USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse heard concerns from lawmakers this week at a House Ag subcommittee hearing on Farm Bill implementation.

South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem told Scuse that farmers need adequate time to reach conservation compliance if they make an honest mistake, “I know producers out there many times are busy, they’ve got a lot of acres they’re covering.  They may unknowingly make a change and to make it whole before they lose that subsidy, I think, would be the right thing to do.”

Scuse said farmers will have the ability to come into compliance after the June 1st, 2015 deadline so they don’t lose the subsidy.  That time period, he says, will be in the final rule.

Texas Congressman Mike Conaway asked for the USDA to implement the Actual Production History (APH) adjustment for crops in 2015 rather than 2016 as planned.  He said states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado and other states are suffering through an on-going drought and need relief.

Scuse said that would be a huge undertaking to get the APH before then but he would come up with potential timelines and consider partial implementation for those areas. The APH is used by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to determine “normal” production levels for producers.

And, Ranking House Ag Committee Member Collin Peterson told Scuse the Farm Service Agency needs to reach out to producers about the new dairy program sooner rather than later.

Supporting beginning farmers and ranchers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced new policies that will provide beginning farmers and ranchers additional financial security. USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden tells Brownfield that to help beginning farmers and ranchers navigate the new policies, USDA has also launched a new website.

Audio: USDA Deputy Secretary, Krysta Harden (2:55 mp3)

Supporting beginning farmers and ranchers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced new policies that will provide beginning farmers and ranchers additional financial security.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Krysta Harden tells Brownfield the new policies are part of the new Farm Bill.

“One of them is our Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program called NAP,” the Deputy Secretary said. “Actually waiving some of the fees, the service fees for new farmers which we think will help many of them getting started.”

Also available will be the elimination of payment reductions under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and increasing payment rates to beginning farmers and ranchers under Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).

In addition to the new policies, USDA has launched a new website that will help beginning farmers and ranchers navigate USDA programs.

Deputy Secretary Harden describes the new website as a one-stop shop.

“And for folks who are entering agriculture for the first time and may not be familiar, as familiar with USDA and the many tools that we have, it can be a sea of acronyms,” Harden said. “So this really breaks things down into practical questions so you can really look at the whole of USDA and how the many things that we do have that can help folks get started in agriculture.”

The website can be found here.

Audio: U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Krysta Harden (5:35 mp3)

10 minutes with Sec. Vilsack

In a 10 minute interview with Brownfield’s Dave Russell, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talked about his trip to Europe, Made in Rural America and the opportunities it has for rural businesses, the Secretary talked about the Farm Bill and the progress being made in implementing programs and ended the interview talking record exports.

Audio: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (10:15 mp3)

Farm Bill implementation progress

While there is still plenty of work to do, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is pleased with the progress made thus far in getting Farm Bill programs implemented.

“We just recently announced the $6 million that’s going to be used to create the models and educational materials for ARC and PLC so producers in the fall will know a little bit better how these programs might work in their particular operations,” the Secretary said. “We’re expending crop insurance options, we’ve announced the Regional Conservation Partnership, and we’ve made the adjustments to our credit programs that the Farm Bill required, so I think progress has been good.”

Already nearly $900 million dollars has been paid out in livestock disaster and forage program claims.

Audio: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (1:15 mp3)

Bio-based products “must have value”

Bio-based manufacturing is growing in the U.S. but a leader in the industry says products must focus on performance.  Curtis Miller, president of Cargill Industrial Specialties, tells the Senate Agriculture Committee, that “green is nice but it doesn’t sell.”   He says you have to have value and he used their green transformer fluid as an example, “It’s green, made from soybean oil,” Miller testified, “But, it also has a high flash point, it’s biodegradable and it also makes a transformer last longer. So, not only do you get the environmental impact but you also get safety and then you can save money for the utilities. They key is you HAVE to have the value proposition.”

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow says more than three-thousand U.S. companies either manufacture or distribute bio-based products and provisions in the Farm Bill have been expanded to promote more growth. Bio-based products are made from crops such as corn and soybeans instead of from petroleum based-chemicals.

Who should develop Farm Bill implementation tools?

A letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack from seven national farm groups makes a strong case on the importance of developing Farm Bill implementation tools that assist producers in deciding which farm programs to sign up for.

While the letter suggests a broad range of academic institutions participate in the work, the groups say that institutions in the Midwest and Northern Great Plains, that already have the confidence of producers, a strong familiarity with cropping practices and farm economics and where a majority of the acres subject to program decisions are grown, should be given priority.

The USDA expects to make awards for website development and other decision aids on May 22, with the final tools available by late summer.

The National farm groups signing the letter included: the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, the National Sunflower Association and the U.S. Canola Association.

Vilsack says authority may be limited for loophole

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he believes his authority in defining “actively engaged” farming operations has been diminished in the 2014 Farm Bill. At a Senate Ag Committee hearing on Farm Bill implementation, Vilsack told Iowa Senator Charles Grassley that he has limited authority – outside of the broad definition of “family farms.”  

Vilsack agreed with Grassley that defining “actively engaged” is about the credibility of the Farm Program to the 99% of Americans that do not farm.  He said, “You also have to take a look at ways in which people have been quite creative and ask yourself — is this consistent with what the purpose of these programs are? And, I think the purpose is to reduce the risk of farming so people can stay in the business when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.’ Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow told Vilsack the committee HAS given him the authority to determine ‘actively engaged.’ “I’m confident that you’ll be able to proceed to do that,” said Stabenow. “Some authority, Madam Chair,” Vilsack laughed. She replied, “Well, we’re looking forward to you using the authority you have.” Grassley’s payment limit reforms were left out of the 2014 Farm Bill and he’s looking for assurances from the Secretary to close the loophole which has allowed people who have little to no involvement in a farming operation to benefit.

Grassley focused on ‘actively engaged’ loophole

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will appear before the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday to discuss implementation of the 2014 farm bill.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has a problem with farm program benefits being paid to people who have little to no involvement in operating a farm.  In a conference call today (Tuesday) with ag reporters, Grassley said he will ask Vilsack about what he can do to tighten the “actively engaged” loophole in farm programs.

“I fought hard to limit the abuse of farm programs by only allowing one non-farming manager per operation to be eligible for subsidies,” Vilsack says. “The loophole didn’t get closed in the bill, but Secretary Vilsack could make some minor changes based on the new law.”

Grassley was frustrated when his provisions related to payment limit reforms were left out of the 2014 farm bill.

AUDIO: Chuck Grassley (2:09 MP3)