EVEN before Congress passed the 2014 farm bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was prioritizing what needed to be done to help ensure a smooth implementation.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that foresight has allowed USDA to be "significantly ahead" of where it was on implementation after the 2008 farm bill passage.
During a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee April 3, Vilsack said the agency's top priority — livestock disaster assistance through the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program — remains on target to be out by April 15.
Many welcomed the news, including Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.), who said another blizzard just hit her home state during calving season, and the federal help is vital.
Although Vilsack would not designate an exact timeline of how fast payments could go out, he assured that they will be made in a timely fashion. Vilsack reiterated the need for a quick turnaround on assistance, especially as it could provide the final lifeline for fledgling farms hit by a disaster.
"Everybody understands that we've waited far too long to send help," Vilsack told the committee.
Nuts and bolts
With 12 titles and more than 450 provisions, the farm bill drives policies on food, farm, conservation, trade, research, energy and more. Implementing such a large piece of legislation within the mandated timeline requires a coordinated effort across all areas of USDA.
Immediately after enactment, USDA established a farm bill implementation team composed of key sub-Cabinet officials and experts from every mission area of the agency to put new programs in place and make mandated reforms to existing programs.
In the weeks since enactment, USDA has held 12 outreach and listening sessions to share information and hear from stakeholders on the farm bill implementation process.
Important progress has been made on every title of the 2014 farm bill, including updates to risk management tools, modifications to farm loan programs, announcements regarding available funds for agricultural research and much more, USDA said in a separate release April 3.
Vilsack testified that the agency is currently evaluating how to best allocate $3 million provided under the farm bill to establish educational outreach and help farmers make decisions allowed under the new bill. He anticipates that farmers will have sufficient information to make any needed program changes by this fall.
Vilsack noted that some implementation components of the farm bill will trickle into 2015, such as crop insurance changes, but the goal is to accomplish the bulk of the roll-out in 2014.
On March 28, the Farm Service Agency published extensions for marketing assistance loans, the Milk Income Loss Contract, Dairy Indemnity Payment Program, Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and sugar programs.
USDA said it will announce funding for important components of the trade title under the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program.
The agency has also published notices of funding availability for research initiatives under the research title for organic and specialty crop projects.
During the first week of April, USDA said the Risk Management Agency will issue documents to revise the premium rates charged for Catastrophic Risk Protection coverage to be based on the average historical "loss ratio" plus a reasonable reserve.
USDA launched a website, www.usda.gov/farmbill, that provides details on farm bill implementation, and the Economic Research Service launched www.ers.usda.gov/agricultural-act-of-2014-highlights-and-implications.aspx, which highlights some economic implications of the new programs and provisions.