Indiana Sen. Todd Young spent two days in the state last week learning about the crisis facing Indiana farmers. He left with a much clearer picture than when he arrived. Ironically, the most important point he took back to Washington, D.C., is that farmers in Indiana are in crisis mode, and need clarity as to what the government will and will not provide in the way of various payments or assistance.
Young attended meetings with various state leaders, including a two-hour listening session with members of the Indiana Corn Growers Association and Indiana Soybean Alliance on June 21, before answering questions from the media.
“Hoosier farmers are asking for clarity in several areas,” Young says. “They want to know what the disaster relief package passed by Congress might mean for them. And they want clarity from USDA on how payments from the Market Facilitation Program will be made.
“We’ve been talking to USDA, stressing the point that farmers need clarity on these issues as soon as possible. We will continue talking with them, relaying the message that farmers need to make decisions now.”
Other observers indicate it’s still unclear whether the disaster aid package passed by Congress will help Indiana farmers. As of this writing, disaster declarations have not been made in Indiana.
The MFP is another matter, experts say. When USDA first announced the program in late May, Purdue University Extension ag economists Jim Mintert and Michael Langemeier interpreted the announcement to mean producers would have to plant a crop to receive a payment. It could be any crop — it didn’t have to be soybeans. They later reaffirmed their interpretation by talking with state Farm Service Agency officials, although they didn’t get written confirmation of USDA’s intentions.
This was important, Langemeier noted, because if farmers must plant to get a payment, it may entice some to continue planting soybeans longer than they might otherwise. Many people, including farm managers, felt confident USDA would clarify the announcement by saying prevented planting acres would be eligible as well.
Instead, two weeks later, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement noting that federal law would not allow USDA to make MFP payments unless a crop was planted. That information wasn’t included in the first release. Instead, Perdue hinted there “might be” a “minimal payment” from USDA for prevented planting acres if producers planted an MFP-approved cover crop on those acres.
As of press time, USDA has issued no further clarification for what a “minimal payment” might be, nor what an approved cover crop would be. The Risk Management Agency, which oversees crop insurance, has indicated it doesn’t have a list of approved cover crops.
Need clarity now
Decisions about whether to continue planting soybeans or to plant a cover crop instead — and if so, which cover crop — need to be made soon. In fact, Jane Ade Stevens, CEO for both ICGA and ISA, says farmers can’t wait any longer for clearer information. She made her plea to Young so he could take the message back to D.C. and directly to USDA.
“We need clarity on the prevented planting situation, and we need it now,” Ade Stevens told Young and reporters. “Decisions are being made right now, and it’s tough to make good decisions when you don’t have all the information.”