How is the farm bill program signup going?

How is the farm bill program signup going?

Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini: "If someone comes into or calls (an FSA office) by April 7 and says they can’t get in for some reason, we’ll do what we’ve done historically with big signups and use a register. We’re doing that, for example, for the Livestock Forage Program in several states. “It’s just a relief valve of sorts that allows our county offices to prioritize work and do work after the deadline date.”    

On Friday morning (March 27), the USDA announced the signup deadline for ARC and PLC programs has been pushed back to April 7.

Shortly after the announcement, Val Dolcini, administrator of USDA's Farm Service Agency, spoke with reporters about the decision and how the sign-up process is going.

If a farmer has already contacted their county FSA office “and scheduled an appointment with our staff, then they’ve met their deadline,” Dolcini says.

He later elaborated. “If someone comes into or calls (an FSA office) by April 7 and says they can’t get in for some reason, we’ll do what we’ve done historically with big signups and use a register. We’re doing that, for example, for the Livestock Forage Program in several states.

“It’s just a relief valve of sorts that allows our county offices to prioritize work and do work after the deadline date.”

Queried on the FSA’s plans to send “jump teams” to Oklahoma and Texas, Dolcini again pointed to the disaster program for livestock producers.

​Response team

‘A jump team is essentially a team (of FSA employees) from states where the signup is done, or mostly done. They’ll spend two, three, four weeks in some cases, working in county offices in a state with a heavy work load. We’ve used jump teams for various program signups in years past.

“The issue of jump teams going to Texas and Oklahoma is largely precipitated by those states also having large Livestock Forage Program activity. In both those states, we’re working through a 2012, 2013, and 2014 backlog of LFP-related work. The continuing drought in the Southwest has triggered LFP for 2015, as well.

“So, those states are working on LFP issues in addition to the ARC and PLC programs. Their (sign-up) numbers are a bit lower than other states but with the extra week, they should be able to make the mark.

“We’ll look to states in the upper Midwest, where the (signup) job is largely done at this point (to help make up the teams) along with states with interested volunteers. We’ve reached out to all the states and are assembling the teams. This is a good example of FSA’s ‘can do’ ethic.”

Among other questions that arose during the conference call with reporters: Will cover crops be covered under ARC and PLC?

Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary, “received a similar question several weeks ago when he was testifying for the House Agriculture Committee,” said Dolcini. “We looked at the 2014 farm bill language, consulted with the Office of General Counsel at USDA and didn’t think there was any room for us to maneuver on the question of whether cover crops could be eligible for ARC, PLC or program payments. When the intent is not to harvest those crops and sell them as commodities, we didn’t think the statute allowed them to be included.”

Revisiting decision

What about farmers deciding to change earlier program decisions before the new deadline? Joe Outlaw, a well-respected Texas A&M agricultural economist, recently said with current commodity prices farmers might want to reconsider any program decisions they’ve made.

“I hope it doesn’t complicate things,” said Dolcini. “As I’ve said all along: folks can undo decisions they’ve made if it’s prior to the deadline. If anyone wants to come in and make a change to a previous decision, they can do that. I hope there’s not a wave of folks coming into our county offices with that intention.

“Mainly this extension is to provide an opportunity for those who haven’t quite made up their mind on which program is the best way to go. … We feel one final week will get everyone over the hump.”

Are there any regional disparities in the signup FSA is finding?

“I haven’t parsed the numbers to see what the regional differences look like. I think we’re seeing robust activity around the nation. After April 7, we’ll be in a better position to answer those questions.”

Asked why PLC is the default program for the new law, Dolcini was succinct: “PLC is the default program because that’s what the farm bill indicated.”

To find local FSA offices, visit http://offices.usda.gov.

For online farm bill program tools visit www.fsa.usda.gov/arc-plc.

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