Washington, Jan. 18, 2013 – With the extension of the 2008 farm bill through Sept. 30, 2013, there’s been a lot of confusion over exactly which USDA farm and conservation programs will be available this year. Part of the problem stems from the fact that direct payments were eliminated in versions of the farm bill that passed in both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee. And there has been a lot of speculation that the direct payments would once again be removed from the package later in the year.

But direct payments will definitely be made in 2013, says House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla, who championed the payments in the battle over the extension of the 2008 farm bill.

“While farmers and ranchers have been denied the five years of certainty a new farm bill would provide, folks in Washington need to stop the guessing game about farm policy for the 2013 crop year, especially with respect to direct payments.  The existing safety net was extended a year to provide the certainty producers need for the 2013 crop year.  This is the law of the land,” Lucas emphasized in a statement.

“Anyone familiar with the business of agriculture knows that producers across the country are making spring planting decisions and securing operating loans as we speak. And, I fully expect sign-up for the 2013 crop year—including direct payments—to begin as soon as possible.

“I assure you that the five -year farm bill that we will mark up in my Committee will honor the commitment Congress made to growers when it extended the 2008 farm bill to cover the 2013 crop year.”

USDA was expected to announce signup for the 2013 Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program (DCP) and the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program today, but our sources confirmed that the announcement will likely be made early next week. Signup is expected to occur in February—just a few weeks later than the 2012 signup, which started on January 23 last year.

Farmers will need to work with their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) to sign up for direct payments and decide if they want to “opt in” to the ACRE program for 2013. Contracts covering anyone who had been enrolled in the ACRE program during the 2008 farm bill have now expired.

In addition, farmers will also need to sign a new, one-year self-certification to verify their average adjusted gross income. As part of the fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations package, the Senate passed an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit direct payments to individuals or entities with an average adjusted gross income in excess of $1 million per year.  Current law already prohibits direct payments to individuals with more than $500,000 in non-farm adjusted gross income and to individuals with more than $750,000 in farm adjusted gross income. Those current limits, as well as the new Coburn provision, are doubled for most married couples.  

USDA’s FSA is also hard at work on extending the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP), Marketing Assistance Loans (MAL), Loan Deficiency Payments (LDP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the sugar program. But the department is not expected to make any additional announcements on these programs next week.

Agri-Pulse contributor Bruce Knight and points out in his column that the “Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which lost its authority for continuous enrollments last fall.  However, with the extension of the current farm bill, payments for filter strips, buffer strips and wetlands should be available again. Knight says USDA is likely to offer a general sign-up in the spring or summer. 

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will also be “open for business” point out Knight, who served as a former Chief of the NRCS.  He writes:

“First, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  In the past, nearly $1 billion has been allocated annually for EQIP, and the program will be available again this year.  In fact, in some states, sign-up has already closed, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is currently evaluating applications and making decisions.  Check with your local office to see if it is still taking applications for EQIP or if you can get in line now for next year.

Both the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) will be operating in 2013, although specific funding has not yet been determined.  The same is true for the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), which under the next farm bill will likely be incorporated into EQIP, and will probably have a modest amount of money this year.  Each of these programs will be following the same rules as in 2012.

Funding is also available for cutting edge ideas under the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) through EQIP.  The grant announcement should go out within the next month, and dozens of grants for up to $1 million will be available.

The Continuing Resolution passed last fall committed to make available funds to fulfill 2013 commitments under contracts for those currently participating in the Conservation Stewardship Program.  CSP now covers 50 million acres and is the largest NRCS conservation program.  Hopefully, funding will be made available to implement the program on an additional one million acres in 2013.  It’s worth talking with the NRCS staff about if you are interested.”

Other USDA programs, including several energy programs, have some carryover funds to sustain operations and administration. But we have been unable to confirm amounts for specific programs.




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