Tired of making trips to your county Farm Service Agency office to comply with yet another of the myriad requirements of the Agricultural Act of 2014 – aka the 2014 farm bill?
You’re probably not alone, but now is not the time to throw in the towel. The latest deadline of Sept. 30 for enrollment in the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs could be the most important deadline yet.
Arkansas Farm Service Agency specialists told participants in the University of Arkansas Extension Service’s Farm Bill Webinar series Thursday (June 25) that failing to meet the ARC/PLC enrollment deadline could delay the issuance of payments for the two programs.
Under the 2014 farm bill, the Farm Service Agency is scheduled to begin making payments – if Price Loss Coverage or Agricultural Risk Coverage payments are triggered for the 2014 crops – after Oct. 1 of this year. Farmers have until Sept. 30 to enroll in either of those programs at FSA offices for the 2014 and 2015 crops.
“If for some reason, enrollment has to continue into October – the sheer volume of enrollment could run us into October – then PLC or ARC payments for wheat and feed grains (corn, grain sorghum and soybeans) would be delayed,” says Anita Wilson, state agricultural program specialist with the Arkansas Farm Service Agency.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this article was posted, officials with the USA Rice Federation have told Delta Farm Press that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has agreed to publish the final 2014 national average market price for medium grain, excluding Japonica rice, and the preliminary 2014 national average market price for long grain rice in its Oct. 29 Agricultural Prices Report.
“ARC/PLC payments for medium grain rice, excluding Japonica, will be made in early November 2015, rather than February 2016,” the secretary said in a letter to USA Rice Producers Group Chairman John Owen and to USA Rice Federation Chairman Dow Brantley.
“NASS will also publish a preliminary 2014 national average market price for long grain rice in the October 29 report. This price will be used to establish 2014 PLC and ARC payment rates. The payment rates will be deemed final and will not be adjusted if the final price differs from the preliminary price.”
In the Webinar, Wilson was joined by Tony Franco, chief of the Farm Programs Division at the Arkansas Farm Service Agency offices in Little Rock, and Bobby Coats, professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Arkansas, for the webinar, the latest in the UofA’s Food & Agribusiness Webinar Series.
She said Farm Service Agency personnel are hopeful they can complete the ARC or PLC enrollment for the nation’s farmers by the Sept. 30 deadline. But she acknowledged staff and producers may be challenged. Besides enrolling in the programs for two crop years, growers will also be reporting their acreage, and some may be signing up for disaster programs.
“When farmers make their appointment with their county FSA office, they need to bring their lunch,” Wilson said with a laugh. “We have a lot to cover, but our deputy administrator says we will be finished by Sept. 30 so that’s what we’re working toward.”
Producers have been preparing for the new farm bill since shortly after it was signed by President Obama in February of 2014. The first activity under the new law for farmers not affected by disasters was the opportunity to reallocate crop acreage bases and update program yields.
The initial deadline for those was extended, and FSA staff members received their last requests for changing bases or yields on April 7. The deadline for farmers to elect whether they wanted to participate in Agricultural Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage programs, originally set for March 31, was also extended into April.
During the University of Arkansas Extension Service webinar, Wilson said FSA numbers indicate that nationwide 96 percent of the soybean farms, 91 percent of the corn farms and 66 percent of the wheat farmers elected the ARC –County program and 90-plus percent of the rice farms and 90-plus percent of the peanut farmers appear to have selected PLC.
As most farmers are aware, cotton is no longer a “covered commodity” under the 2014 farm bill. In the new law, a farm’s cotton base became generic base, which could be assigned to other crops for program purposes. Cotton yields were not updated.
Wilson discussed the process for determining farmer yields for ARC-County coverage and PLC. Farmers will no longer have to produce evidence such as scale tickets or other warehouse receipts to certify yields for FSA. FSA offices will not retain documentation on growers’ yields.
But the yields growers certify for PLC updates and ARC-County will be subject to spot checks, according to Wilson. She cautioned producers to keep the evidence needed to prove their yields in case they are spot checked.
“Yields certified for PLC and ARC-Individual Coverage supported by the USDA Risk Management Agency are not subject to further review unless yield data is questionable,” she said. “Spot checks will be required for all farms where PLC yields (or the updated crop yields) exceeded 125 percent of the county average yield for 2008-12 for the crop in the county.”
Growers will have a tolerance of 5 percent of the final yield for PLC yield or ARC-individual coverage yield. (Example: A farmer has a PLC wheat yield of 40 bushels per acre, but his actual yield is 39 bushels. No action would be required since it is within 5 percent.)
Farm Service Agency personnel are also working on software that will help farmers track the total amount of farm program payments, including marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments, that they have received directly or have been sought on their behalf by marketing cooperatives or farm loan processing agencies.
The software is not in operation yet, said Wilson, but FSA is hopeful it will be implemented soon so that farmers can determine t=whether they are about to exceed the $125,000 payment limit contained in the 2014 farm bill.
Wilson acknowledged this has been a challenging farm bill implementation, one that has put a heavy burden on county FSA staffs that were already short-handed because of cuts in spending for USDA and other government agencies.
“Our staff has gone above and beyond,” she said in response to a question from Dr. Coats about the complexity of the 2014 farm bill. “I can’t brag about them enough. They’ve put in some long, hard hours, learned some things that were foreign to them, but like you say it was the most complicated farm bill we’ve had.”
To view a video recording of the Phase III ARCPLC presentation, visit https://youtu.be/kaAgwAus4xc