THE U.S. Department of Agriculture will officially begin the process of rolling out the 2014 farm bill's new commodity programs — individual or county Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) — with the release of decision-making tools.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a call last Thursday that the web-based tools will go live Sept. 29, giving landowners the opportunity to reallocate base acres and yields.
Vilsack noted that it will be the owner's responsibility to decide the election base and yield and the operator's decision on whether to sign up for ARC or PLC (although signups have not been announced yet).
If a landowner has a crop-share agreement with the producer, both would be involved in the decision.
A lot of land is owned by absentee or elderly landowners, and Vilsack said he doesn't know if an online opportunity will prevent them from having to go into a Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to sign off on any changes themselves.
In the end, Vilsack said he hopes the decision is a "collaborative process" between owners and producers.
The new suite of programs does offer the ability to make different decisions on each FSA farm. The web tools will allow producers to start plugging in different variants to determine which decision would be best for each farm.
"This is an individual farm-by-farm decision and crop-by-crop decision," Vilsack said, and that is why the decision is so complex.
Vilsack said the agency hasn't determined a definitive timeline on when elections must be made, but it likely will go until the first few months of 2015. He's urging producers to take the time to go to educational meetings on the programs as well as to sit down with their farm managers, lenders and crop insurance agents to see how the numbers work out under different options.
Vilsack said FSA staff have been trained on the final regulations for ARC and PLC, and many of the staff have likely worked through the new online tools as well.
He didn't give any more details about the timing of future important dates, such as an end date for making reallocation election decisions. Rather, Vilsack said the agency will play it by ear to see if any technological issues crop up or if users have other concerns during this initial process.
The web-based decision-making aids will be available at www.fsa.usda.gov/arc-plc.
Vilsack staying put
Vilsack is one of only two of President Barack Obama's original Cabinet members from 2008 who is still in his post.
Although the Washington Post reported hearing that Vilsack "had one foot out the door — but his wife, Christie, may be enjoying her job at the Agency for International Development" — Vilsack quipped that the source must have been his grandkids, who are always asking him when he's coming home.
"Unless the President has a different thought, I'm keeping the job I've got because I'm not sure I can get another one," Vilsack said.
Going off that statement, he may be sticking around for two more years. Vilsack boasted that just nine months after passage of the new farm bill, the basics of all of the major farm programs are out.