Farm bill sign ups loom

Vilsack said he promises flexibility in meeting Feb. 27 and March 31 deadlines but urged producers to take action.

With deadlines set for enrollment in the 2014 farm bill’s crop programs in February and March, farmers have only a few weeks left to make decisions about key farm safety net decisions. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urged producers to make decisions, but did say the agency would offer flexibility if it seems producers won’t be able to meet the deadlines.

Feb. 27 is the last day to update yield history or allocate base acres. And March 31 is the last day to enroll in one of the three new crop safety net programs: the Agricultural Risk Coverage County program (ARC-CO), the Agricultural Risk Coverage Individual program (ARC-IC), or the Price Loss Coverage program (PLC).

During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Feb. 24, Vilsack shared that he receives weekly, which have now changed over to daily, updates on the total number of producers who have filed the paperwork for base acre and yield decisions as well as between the new crop safety net programs.

He said he’s “very attentive to the percentage of producers” who have made the decisions. So far, 430,332 operators – or roughly 26-27% of total producers expected to participate, have made the safety net elections.

Vilsack stopped short of saying the agency would offer an extension on sign-ups, comparing it to telling your child they can have an extra week to do their homework and they will only continue to procrastinate.

He said by receiving updates on participation, it provides him a general sense of how far the agency has come and how far yet to go. “As we’ve been flexible in the past, we will be flexible in the future,” Vilsack said if the need arises.

Vilsack said on the program choices, if producers make an election and change before the March 31 deadline, they can do so.

Vilsack also shared he’s hearing from producers who surprised they were on “how little time it takes to sign up.”

Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University, shared that upcoming decisions offer a rare opportunity to update program yield and to change the mix of program base acres which haven’t been able to be updated since 2002 and could apply to future farm bills.

If a farm’s yield history is not updated or base acres are not allocated by the Feb. 27 deadline, then the farm’s current yield and base acre allocation presently on file with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency will remain valid through the 2018 crop year, he said.

If a program enrollment decision is not made by March 31, then for the 2014 crop year no payment will be made and the farm’s crop program enrollment will default to the PLC program for the 2015 through 2018 crop years, Zulauf said.

Of significance for the 2014 crop year, these programs have the potential to make substantial payments for the first time since 2005 due to the current low price and revenue environment for corn, soybeans and wheat, he said.

“While payments are not a given, if they materialize they could help farmers and land owners transition during this low revenue period,” Zulauf said.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the farm safety net could payout $16 billion more over the 10-year baseline because of the significant drop in crop prices since the farm bill was passed a year ago.

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