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)

As farm programs rollout

With sign-up for livestock disaster programs already underway at Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices and as details of other farm programs become known, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Ag Committee wants feedback.

“I’m always looking for input,” Brown said. “What are you seeing with these farm programs, what’s your interaction, do you want the government involved in this, or back away, where should we be as a partnership.”

The Senator adds that it’s not only important to provide input on farm programs when a Farm Bill is being written, it’s just as important to provide input throughout the duration of the bill.

Disaster programs now available to producers

Eligible farmers and ranchers can now sign-up for USDA’s disaster assistance programs.  Indiana State Executive Director Julia Wickard says the Farm Service Agency has been waiting a long time to unveil livestock disaster programs.  “We were able to roll out four new disaster programs as permanent law that Congress enacted earlier this year,” she says.  “We’ve actually been able to enact this legislation in record time, about 60 days, which is unprecedented.  The quickest a Farm Bill has been rolled out is a 90 day period.”

AUDIO: Julia Wickard, FSA (3:30mp3)

Wickard tells Brownfield both the Secretary of Agriculture and the President felt it was imperative to provide livestock producers across the country with relief.  Which is why, she says, these four programs were debuted first.  “The programs we’re unveiling today are the Livestock Forage Program, which has been a part of prior Farm Bills; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Emergency Loss Assistance Program for Honeybees and Farm Raised Fish; and the Tree Assistance Program,” she says.

Johnson county beef producer Keegan Poe says having disaster programs available to livestock producers once again, is a relief. “Any livestock operations, one of their biggest costs is feed costs,” he says.  “When we have these natural disasters it affects our feed availability quite a bit.  It’s really helpful to have these insurance policies, that’s what I use them for – an insurance policy, to keep the livestock in good condition and keep them healthy.”

AUDIO: Keegan Poe, Johnson County (1:00mp3)

Depending on the program and year of the loss, producers have three to nine months to apply.  Producers are urged to contact the local FSA office for information on the types of records needed and to schedule an appointment.

Dairy bill advances in Missouri

The Missouri House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act of 2014. The effort seeks to reverse the rapid decline in Missouri’s dairy industry and preserve the state’s 15 milk processing plants. In 2003, Missouri had 129,000 milk cows producing nearly 1.9 billion pounds of milk. By the end of 2013 the state was down to 90,000 cows and 1.35 billion pounds of milk. Earlier this year the USDA replaced Missouri with South Dakota on the list of 23 Major Dairy States.

Missouri Dairy Association’s Dave Drennan tells Brownfield Ag News they are pleased, “We were expecting a positive vote but the fact that it was 137 to 4 is overwhelming. It really is.”

Sponsored by Representatives Casey Guernsey (District 2) and Bill Reiboldt (District 160), the Act would have the University of Missouri determine how much sales tax revenue is generated in the state from the sale of dairy products. No more than 40 percent of that revenue would then be appropriated to a Revitalization Fund which would help Missouri dairy producers pay for the federal margin insurance premiums; create a Dairy Scholars Program for students who commit to working in Missouri’s agriculture industry and make available up to 80 scholarships of $5,000 each to assist with tuition at a two or four year college or university in the state.

The plan also requires the University of Missouri Commercial Agriculture Program to conduct an annual study of the dairy industry and then develop a plant to grow and enhance dairy production and processing in Missouri.

The bill now awaits State Senate action which Drennan says could be as soon as next week.

~Brownfield’s Bob Meyer contributed to this report

Dairy title to be discussed

Designed to provide dairy farmers training on how the new dairy title in the 2014 Farm Bill will impact their operations will be held Wednesday morning, March 26, from 8 to 9 a.m.

John Newton, agricultural economist at the University of Illinois and Cameron Thraen, dairy economist at Ohio State University will discuss the new national voluntary safety net program, including provisions of the new dairy margin protection program.

Pre-registration is required to participate in the webinar offered through Farmdoc Daily.

Register here.


Farm Bill meeting draws big crowd

Over 450 attended a meeting in Darke Co. on March 20 that provided insight into the new Farm Bill.

Darke County Extension educator Sam Custer says some left the meeting with unanswered questions and for others, concerns.

“Probably the most interesting one that raised some concerns from farmers that were in attendance is that decisions will have to be signed-off on by both the landowner and the farmer,” Custer said. “They’ll have to agree to the route or avenue choices they make, so that has some concerned.”

Custer says a dairy meeting will be held in September and as more Farm Bill details are known other meetings will be held.

Audio: Sam Custer, Extension educator, Darke Co. OH (2:30 mp3)

Farm bill decisions concern farmers

The primary concern among Iowa producers about the new farm bill revolves around the choice they need to make between the Agriculture Risk Coverage program and the Price Loss Coverage program, according to Bill Northey, Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa. Once it’s made, that choice is final through the five-year life of the farm bill. But Northey said that farmers will be able to learn more before the time comes to decide.

“Wait, there’s going to be better information,” said Northey. “There’s certainly going to be universities and others that are going to come up with the spreadsheets that help you work through this and figure out what that is.”

The other question that farmers have is how they’re affected by the farm bill’s conservation program provisions. But farmers have something else on their minds at the moment, said Northey.

“What impacts their farm the most right now is how big their crop’s going to be and what the grain prices are more so than even what the farm program is,” he said.

Northey spoke Friday at the KIIC Farm Show and Ag Expo in Ottumwa, Iowa.

AUDIO: Bill Northey (1 min. MP3)

IN Farm Bureau to host Farm Bill mtgs.

Indiana Farm Bureau will host three regional meetings to help farmers better understand the new Farm Bill.

The meetings will focus on commodity, livestock and crop insurance programs and will feature John Anderson and Matt Erickson with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

Meetings will be held:

March 27, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. at the Fulton County Fairgrounds in Rochester

March 27, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. at the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds

March 28, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds at Bedford

The deadline to register for the Farm Bill meetings is Wednesday, March 26. Kyle Cline, Indiana Farm Bureau national policy advisor can provide details, 317-692-7845 or email.

USDA livestock and forage programs

Since the Farm Bill was signed at the beginning of February, USDA has been working to put together and implement farm programs.

Julia Wickard, executive director for Indiana’s Farm Service Agency details one of them. “We plant to enroll and start sign-up for the Livestock and Forage program,” she says.  “To assist those livestock producers that were impacted the last few years with disasters as it relates to forages.”

Wickard tells Brownfield – it’s important for producers to have their records together by the April 15th deadline. “Really, the important piece is if you’re a forage and livestock producer and have been producing livestock since 2011, it’s really important for you to pull those records out and have them ready when we start sign-up the middle of April.”

As the sign-up date gets closer, Wickard says more information will be available from your local Farm Service Agency.

AUDIO: Julia Wickard, FSA (2:15mp3)