Vilsack talks farm bill implementation
By Larry Dreiling
Attendees at past Commodity Classics have always given Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack a generous round of applause when he approaches the podium to speak.
This year, Vilsack received a long standing ovation as he opened his now annual address, this year performed at San Antonio, Texas.
Once he was through with the usual openings about the positive values of the American farmer, Vilsack spoke a line that brought an even bigger ovation than his mere walking across a stage.
“It is awfully nice to come here today to talk today about the passage of a farm bill as opposed to a need for a farm bill,” Vilsack said.
With that, Vilsack told the more than 2,000 producers in attendance about the steps the U.S. Department of Agriculture was taking to make informed decisions for new farm program sign-ups beginning in the 2015 crop year.
“First, obviously we have to establish the educational materials and training materials that will be used to educate you and educate our field staff,” Vilsack said. “We will be soon be dispersing the $3 million that Congress has provided for the tab of those training materials and the web-based tools that you all will use and study over the course of the next several months to make determinations and decisions about your operation.”
That funding, Vilsack said, establishes the opportunities that will assist USDA in its farmer outreach, which is expected to take place this summer and fall.
During the course of summer and fall, farmers will be allowed to update their farm production history, Vilsack said.
“We want to make sure we are communicating with you about base and yields in your production history. We are going to hope to publicize and focus on publicizing the final program and the regulations for both ARC and PLC in the fall of 2014,” Vilsack said.
“We will allow, after that occurs, to update your information concerning yields and relocate your business if you need to do that with the hope that by the end of 2014 and early 2015, you will be in a position to be able to make your election and your decisions.”
Vilsack then told the farmers about how information is being gathered now to start implementation of Supplemental Coverage Option plans.
“We have to have enough data and enough history and information that will allow us to make an appropriate determination from an actuarial standpoint of precisely how to price these options,” Vilsack said.
“We have already begun that process of looking at whether or not in each county where a commodity is being grown, whether it will have an adequate number of farms, whether we have an adequate number of years of back history that will allow us to do a good job of actuarially determining the cost of this option.”
Vilsack said USDA expects and anticipates that it will be able to publish history maps for corn, soybeans, grain, sorghum, cotton and rice, for most counties, sometime in the summer and fall of 2015 to give producers a precise sense of where SCO coverage will be made available.
“We recognize that this creates a dilemma, particularly for wheat producers. We know that you may have to make elections and option before you have all the information,” Vilsack said. “You may have to make a decision about coverage before you really know for sure what you are doing relative to the various programs. So, we want to assure you are that we are going to give you the ability prior to the coverage-recording deadline to opt out of the decision as you may on the Supplemental Coverage Option.
“And if you opt out prior to that date, you won’t incur any responsibility for the payment of premiums. This should give you a reassurance that we are aware of challenges that we are presented.”
Vilsack then took a shot at Congress for not getting a farm bill passed in a timely manner at a time of year that was more convenient for farmers to complete their end of the implementation process.
“If Congress obviously had passed this a little bit sooner—last year, for example—we might have been able to structure this a bit differently but given the past agenda this year, we are going to do the very best we can to make sure that you have the information you need to make the appropriate determination because, as you know, you can’t have it both ways,” Vilsack said.
“You can’t have both ARC coverage and Supplemental Coverage Option. You will have to choose. So, we want to make sure that you at least have some time to re-evaluate the decision you may have made.”
On stats, Vilsack said USDA believes almost all cotton production nationwide will be covered in 2015 crop year.
“This summer, our RMA will again provide information about counties that will be covered. And, of course, we want to make sure that the cotton transition payments are, in fact, made this year to allow you that opportunity to transition to this new program,” Vilsack said.
“In the same vein, we will be working with our beginner farmer and rancher incentive in the Crop Insurance Program improvement made to that to make it a little bit easier for beginning farmers and ranchers to have access to crops insurance and to use it. We are hopeful of working on that program in 2014 so that those incentives will be available for spring crops in 2015.”
Vilsack also acknowledged USDA has a responsibility to establish a whole farm pilot program.
“Pending board approval, our hope is that we are in place with board approval to have enrollment sometime in the spring of 2015. And we know that all of you are concerned about conservation compliance. So what we’re attempting to do is to begin the process of figuring out what that implementing rule will be this summer,” Vilsack said.
“We hope to be able to impact and effect deregulation relating to 2016 crop years that has to do with the timing on this. The peanut revenue policies are subject to board approval but if it is approved, we hope that too will be instituted in 2015.
Yet to be examined: the definition of actively engaged. Vilsack said he expects that whatever definition will be applied, it will be in the form of a proposed rule, which hopefully will be done sometime by the end of calendar year.
“It is quite restrictive based on the law but there is some work that USDA needs to do.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.