Dairy farmers seek more time for MPP sign-ups

USDA will allow farmers to pay their premiums to county FSA offices through milk check deductions.

The nation’s dairy farmers need additional time this fall to consider their risk management options under the new Margin Protection Program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the National Milk Producers Federation, which asked the USDA to extend the MPP sign-up deadline by two months.

Last week during a House Agriculture Committee hearing ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) asked Farm Service Agency administrator Val Dolcini if MPP participation didn’t increase from the 30% numbers if the agency would extend the sign-up deadline. Dolcini said they would look at participation levels closer to the deadline and make a decision then, but they’re “always mindful of the fact producers are busy with other things” such as harvest this time of year.

Dolcini said signup numbers are quite fluid and there is always greater participation in the final weeks of a sign-up period and he anticipates that to be the case this time as well. He said FSA will be doing another mass mailing and continuing to do local outreach in the remaining time. “We’re hopeful we can get as much interest in the program in 2016 as we did in 2015,” he said. MPP garnered enrollment from half of all dairy farms in the U.S. with more than 23,000 dairy operations signing up the first year.

In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, NMPF said that the upcoming September 30 deadline to enroll in the MPP for 2016 coincides with the fall harvest in many parts of the nation, as well as with the ARC/PLC enrollment deadline.  Dairy farmers would benefit from additional time to weigh their options for utilizing both crop insurance and the dairy margin insurance, NMPF said.

The USDA granted two sign-up extensions last year for farmers electing coverage under the MPP, which resulted in a last-minute surge of participation for calendar year 2015.  Those extensions “greatly helped to boost enrollment while not complicating the administrative workload of county USDA offices. We believe a similar extension this year, until late November, will likewise enhance participation in the MPP,” wrote NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern.

Mulhern thanked the USDA for providing dairy farmers more flexibility in how they pay their premiums for insurance coverage in the future. The USDA will now allow farmers until September 1, 2016, to pay 100% of their premium (previously, that deadline was June 1). The new date allows producers to pay their premium in whole or in part any time prior to September 1 of the coverage year.  That change also “could have a positive impact on farmers’ decisions regarding next year’s enrollment, but only if they have sufficient time to make an informed decision,” NMPF wrote.

The USDA also said it will allow farmers to pay their premiums to county Farm Service Agency offices through milk check deductions, if a farmer works out such an arrangement with his/her milk handler.

A sign-up extension “would also allow the USDA to continue to work on certain program elements that still need resolution or clarification,” Mulhern said. Critical elements that remain unresolved include enabling dairy farmers to purchase supplemental coverage without having their basic catastrophic coverage reduced below 90%; and protecting the next generation of farm families by accommodating intergenerational transfers of farm ownership.

Mulhern said that NMPF will continue its push to make the MPP safety net as useful as possible for farmers.  USDA’s actions “are a good step toward providing more flexibility under the MPP program, and we are continuing to work with the agency in an effort to secure additional changes.”

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