WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2014 – President Barack Obama wants to know what’s happening at your local Farm Service Agency (FSA), so shouldn’t you, too?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he told the president and vice president during a White House briefing Monday that the agency has “the foundation for a system that brings FSA technology into the 21st century.” In addition, Vilsack said he briefed both men about a wide variety of issues, including school nutrition, problems with rail capacity in the upper Midwest, and the California drought.

“We now have the capacity for a producer to go into a county office….and be able to access their records from multiple county locations. That’s an important convenience for producers,” Vilsack emphasized during a conference call with reporters.

Vilsack said USDA is also putting the “finishing touches on additional modernization of the technologies so that we can keep a good eye on the integrity of the payments to make sure that we are recording them and reporting them accurately.”

One part of this technology allows FSA to check with the Internal Revenue Service about farm incomes to make sure that individuals who are in fact entitled to payments can receive them. Another enhancement, expected this fall, will go a long way toward helping USDA to ensure that proper payments are, in fact, being made and being made in a timely manner, explained USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services Michael Scuse.

Vilsack said he also talked to the president “about the need for FSA offices to have a broader portfolio of opportunities to help producers, in addition to the important work that’s done in providing disaster assistance and assistance under the programs and farm loans.

“We would like to see many in the FSA offices be able to provide advice and counsel to producers who are looking for creative ways to use their land and maybe a local and regional food system opportunity, maybe a conservation easement possibility, it may be participating in a new ecosystem market or being part of a co-op that puts together a new bio economy opportunity,” he explained during the call. “We want FSA offices to be places where farmers can at least get the first bit of information that allows them to maximize opportunity. All of that was discussed with the president.”

In other FSA news, Scuse said FSA has delivered $2.6 billion to 240,000 producers thus far under the livestock disaster programs provided in the 2014 Farm Bill.

“We’ve had a tremendous volume of workload, but we’ve been able to get the payments out the door,” Scuse told Agri-Pulse in an interview. “The other important thing that we want to get out is that we need these ranchers – some who have never walked into their local FSA office before - to contact their local office before Oct. 1 so that their livestock disaster payments will not be sequestered.” The Budget Control Act will reduce payments that have not been requested prior to Oct. 1 by 7.3 percent.

Scuse said that he is looking forward to releasing the next phase of MIDAS (The Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems project) – initially conceived in 2004 – which aims to replace the aging 1980s style computers at the over 2,200 FSA offices and streamline all of the data required to administer USDA programs.

“We are working very hard on the acreage crop reporting streamlining initiative,” Scuse said. The initiative will tie FSA and Risk Management Agency data together and enable single crop reporting for producers. A pilot program that was conducted in one Illinois county last year will be expanded to several other counties across the U.S. this year in an effort to demonstrate that the system works.


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