FSA readies new programs

The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, was signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7. The act repeals certain programs, continues some programs with modifications and authorizes several new programs administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Most of these programs are authorized and funded through 2018.

FSA readies new programs

The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, was signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7. The act repeals certain programs, continues some programs with modifications and authorizes several new programs administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Most of these programs are authorized and funded through 2018.

What is in the new farm bill in regard to farm programs administered by FSA? Wallaces Farmer asked that question and others of John Whitaker, state executive director for FSA in Iowa.

Question:
What has changed for FSA from the 2008 Farm Bill?

Answer: Regarding the farm financial safety net program implemented by FSA, the new bill has a number of changes. It eliminates direct payments and continues crop insurance. Also, producers will choose between two new programs: the Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage.

Regarding livestock, the bill establishes the Dairy Margin Protection program. The new bill also restores livestock disaster assistance for losses dating back to 2011, and establishes a permanent livestock disaster program. USDA is determined to make implementing the livestock disaster programs a top priority and plans to open program enrollment by April 15.

Question:
What are some of the 2014 Farm Bill program highlights for FSA?


Answer: The following explanation is a “bird’s-eye view,” by FSA program area, of what has changed or not changed for FSA as a result of the new farm legislation.

Commodity programs. The Direct and Countercyclical Program and the Average Crop Revenue Election program are repealed and replaced by two new programs: Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, and Agricultural Risk Coverage, or ARC.

Upland cotton is the only covered commodity that is no longer eligible to participate in these programs, but rather, becomes eligible for the new Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX, offered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency. Until STAX becomes available, upland cotton is eligible for transition payments made by FSA for 2014 and 2015 crops.

The Marketing Assistance Loan program and sugar loans continue mostly unchanged. The Milk Income Loss Contract Program continues through Sept. 1, unless it is replaced by the Dairy Margin Protection Program prior to that date.

Conservation programs. The Con-servation Reserve Program, USDA’s largest conservation program, continues through 2018, with an annually decreasing enrolled acreage cap. The contract portion of the Grassland Reserve Program enrollment has been merged with CRP. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is extended and funded at $25 million per year.

Disaster assistance programs. The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program has been expanded to include protection at higher coverage levels, similar to buy-up provisions offered under the federal crop insurance program.

The Livestock Forage Disaster Program; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish; and the Tree Assistance Program are continued, with modifications going back to 2011, and in succeeding years. The Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program, or SURE, which covered losses through Sept. 30, 2011, is not reauthorized.

Credit programs. The credit title continues and improves the direct and guaranteed loan programs. The changes in the act provide FSA greater flexibility in determining eligibility, including expanded definitions of eligible entities, years of experience for farm ownership loans and loan access to youth from urban areas. The microloan and down payment loan programs have been improved by raising loan limits and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

The new act also provides greater enhancements for lenders to participate in the guaranteed conservation loan program and eliminates term limits for the guaranteed operating loan program, providing farmers and ranchers the opportunity for continued credit in cases where financial setbacks may have prevented them from obtaining commercial credit.

Question:
Is FSA ready to implement programs if producers go to the office today?

Answer: As with any major change in legislation, the 900-plus pages of the farm bill must first be interpreted by USDA and FSA, regulations and policies must be written, employee handbooks and software must be developed, and employees must be trained. That said, FSA will be in the position to administer the livestock assistance programs in April, and although we have a lot of work ahead of us, FSA is working diligently to bring these programs to our customers as quickly as possible.

Question:
How can I learn more about the new programs and keep up with the status of program implementation?

Answer: FSA has established a website at www.fsa.usda.gov/farmbill. Mark this site as a “favorite” and visit often for the latest in FSA federal farm program news and updates. FSA has also prepared an FSA farm bill fact sheet titled, “What’s in the 2014 Farm Bill for Farm Service Agency Customers?” The fact sheet provides an overview of FSA-administered programs and outlines new programs and changes to existing programs. The fact sheet provides a valuable summary and projection of things to come.

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