APH unlikely for 2015 crop year, Vilsack says
By Larry Dreiling
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be unable to implement Actual Production History (APH) provisions of the 2014 farm bill this year, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The APH provision in the 2014 farm bill is supposed to make it possible for farmers to update their crop history and exclude years where yields are more than 50 percent below their county’s 10-year production average.
Such an update could dramatically improve the number of bushels per acre on which farmers could base their crop insurance policy. That could prove to be of great assistance should drought conditions reappear in the coming growing season to affect their crops.
Vilsack told reporters on a conference call Aug. 6 that USDA does not have “APH on its to-do” list for 2015 because it was more important to implement the Stacked Income Protection Program (STAX) for cotton and the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) insurance programs as well as the new Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) commodity programs.
The same USDA officials in the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the general counsel’s office focused on broader farm bill implementation issues, Vilsack said, are performing APH implementation duties. As it is now, USDA is understaffed, working with older computer technology and had to set priorities.
“FSA and the counsel’s office have been working overtime—nights and weekends—to implement these new programs first,” Vilsack said. “We had a choice to make in terms of allocating assets,” he said. “We are trying to get work done that was mandated by Congress.”
Vilsack added that implementing APH is a complex task since it involves computations for each farmer based on each commodity and county statistics, he said.
“It is very IT intense and labor and staff intense,” Vilsack said.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, has made APH implementation a frequent topic of interviews and radio talk shows in his effort to get Vilsack to have USDA work to enact the provision. Lucas has suggested that USDA could at least allow farmers in some drought-plagued counties to update their histories.
Vilsack responded to reporters’ questions about Lucas’s ideas about a limited APH enactment by saying he didn’t know how feasible it would be for an individual crop or counties to be designated for a fresh APH.
“What if you have a multitude of producers in one county, only a few in another county? Those are decisions that have to be made if you want to single out commodities,” Vilsack said.
“I appreciate the concern of the chairman. Obviously he is concerned about his producers,” Vilsack said, but he added that if USDA focused on APH and did not get the work done on the other new programs, Lucas “would be equally concerned about all producers.”
Vilsack’s comments came as he announced what he said was continued progress on implementing the farm bill.
“I am pleased to report that we have made tremendous progress in the first six months since the farm bill was signed,” Vilsack said. “Thousands of farmers and ranchers have received critical disaster assistance, innovative new conservation programs are up and running, new risk management programs for producers are available with more tools to come, the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has been incorporated and much more,” Vilsack said.
“Thanks to the hard work of thousands of USDA employees across the country, we are continuing to get new initiatives off the ground and make important reforms to existing programs that are helping to boost the country’s economy.”
Since the farm bill was signed into law, USDA has made progress throughout all 12 titles of the 2014 farm bill.
Among the first major farm bill initiatives to be implemented, Vilsack said, were disaster relief programs for livestock producers, many of whom have been waiting years for assistance.
After the 2008 farm bill passed, it took over one year to set up disaster assistance programs. In 2014, it took under 10 weeks. As of July 31, approximately 165,000 claims have been processed totaling $1.85 billion disbursed through the Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program and Tree Assistance Program.
The 2014 farm bill established new risk management programs for producers, some of which USDA is in the process of developing and others that are in operation already, Vilsack said.
In May, USDA awarded $3 million to the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri and Texas A&M to develop online tools and outreach training that will help farmers and ranchers determine which new risk management options can best protect their businesses. USDA also awarded $3 million to state Cooperative Extension services to provide in-person education to help producers make the most educated decisions regarding new farm bill programs.
New conservation programs have also been established, including the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), an entirely new approach to conservation. RCPP brings together businesses, universities, tribes, municipalities and other non-government partners to identify and invest in creative solutions to the conservation issues in their local areas.
“The program has drawn an overwhelming response from partners across the nation, with more than 600 initial proposals being submitted requesting more than six times the $394 million that is available in funding for the first year,” Vilsack said.
“In the coming months, USDA will begin awarding funding for RCPP projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners, for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation.”
Additionally, USDA recently incorporated the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and announced the appointment of a 15-member board of directors. The new foundation will leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation and partnerships critical to boosting America’s agricultural economy, Vilsack said.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.