SANTA FE, N.M., March 9, 2014 – Farmers and ranchers will have a multitude of decisions facing them this year - if they want to participate in programs offered in the new farm bill. However, experts involved in writing and implementing the “Agricultural Act of 2014” advised producers to take their time and learn as much as possible before enrolling in any of the new programs.
“Don’t rush it. You’ve got a lot of time to make these decisions and make sure you use multiple sources of information to guide your decisions,” advised Joe Shultz, Chief Economist for the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We will have a whole bunch of people with thoughts and opinions and you need to listen to all of them.”
Shultz served on a farm bill panel at the National Farmers Union’s 112th Anniversary convention, along with Bart Fischer, Chief Economist of the House Agriculture Committee, and Alexis Taylor, Chief of Staff, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA. I served as moderator of the panel.
The new farm bill authorized $6 million for development of new farm bill decision-making tools and conducting outreach which should help farmers and ranchers navigate their way through their new options.
Taylor advised farmers in the audience to “use the training sessions that will be available this year and ask tough questions,” but also be prepared to “have some patience” with the process. She also noted that USDA has already started a series of listening sessions to gather more input.
Secretary Tom Vilsack - who will be addressing the group on Monday - has already outlined a rough timeline for farm bill implementation, she noted, and most of the commodity program decisions won’t need to be made until this fall.
However, programs to help producers deal with livestock, forage and tree disaster assistance- which were previously authorized in the 2008 farm bill and made permanent in the 2014 version - will be ready for enrollment on April 14, 2014.
“The agency is really committed to doing this right the first time, getting input, asking hard questions, looking at the law and seeing how the safety net works,” Taylor emphasized.
Shulz and Fischer focused on the new commodity programs, the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, in Title I of the farm bill, which covers basic commodities. They also shared changes in the crop insurance title, such as the option to improve Actual Production History (APH), making enterprise units permanent and adding the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) for producers enrolling in PLC.
“Title I was always intended to be a complement to crop insurance,” noted the House Ag Committee staff member. “But what happens when prices come crumbling down? Crop insurance has limitations. That’s why Chairman Lucas always wanted a farm bill that worked for all growers in all regions.”
Panelists also discussed the coalitions which helped finally pass a new farm bill after more than three years of effort, and the types of new outreach and coaltion-building that will be necessary to pass any future farm bills.
“We have to honor the existing coalitions, but these will not be sufficient in the future,” added Shulz as he pointed to the need for agriculture to work with even more interest groups.
“How do we prepare for the next round? As these programs roll out and as you have good experiences – not just in the commodity title, but in conservation and energy– you need to tell the story….because that’s going to set us up for the long haul.”
Another farm bill topic that was a hard-fought victory for NFU dealt with County-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL). Asked whether there would be more committee action on this topic in the next few months, the panelists were noncommittal, saying they would be watching the World Trade Organization’s decision on this topic – expected by mid-summer.
“This panel was a great opportunity for our members to hear firsthand from those responsible for all aspects of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ farm bill process: both writing and implementing the legislation,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “The information the panelists presented will help our members prepare for the difficult and complex commodity program and risk management decisions they will be making in the coming year.”
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