When the Agriculture Act of 2014 became law more than 18 months ago, everyone involved in the agriculture industry knew they faced a steep learning curve — especially the government workers who would be charged with implementing programs significantly different from any farm bill they had ever administered.
The new programs are more technically challenging, says USDA-FSA Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini. “That’s why we conducted public meetings all over the country, and why we worked with web-based tools developed by Texas A&M and others. Many farmers attended multiple meetings to learn about the new programs. Now, we’re beginning to see less confusion — we’re in the home stretch.”
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Dolcini, in a Farm Press interview following a trip to Lubbock, Texas, and a presentation to the Southwest Council of Agribusinesses conference, said final contract signups for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs in Texas are almost completed.
“I feel good about our FSA offices here in Texas and across the nation for the work they have done over the past two years to get these programs rolled out,” he said. Nationwide, signups have exceeded participation in the old DCP options. Currently, signups total more than 1.7 million.
“We will begin to make ARC and PLC payments late this month,” he said. “Unfortunately, payments will be subject to a 6.8 percent sequester.”
Payments will be instructive. “After farmers receive payments, we will begin to hear how well they think the program is working. We hope they are using these programs as a way to supplement crop insurance.”
$1 Billion Livestock Payments
The livestock program has been important for Texas ranchers, he said. “We’ve paid more than $1billion over the three years covered by the program. We worked with a lot of ranchers who had never been in an FSA office before, and we believe we made a difference, especially with small ranches.”
FSA offers an important outlet for rural America, Dolcini said. “In a time when people feel disconnected from the federal government, FSA works closely with rural communities. We have good people on the ground, and the work we do is important.” The successful effort of FSA personnel across the country during the farm bill rollout “has been the highlight of my professional career.”
He says challenges remain in the transition to a significantly different farm program. “Getting the payment process for ARC and PLC going will be challenging. And we have a December signup for the conservation reserve program.”
He also noted that making certain that FSA has adequate funds available for the farm loan program will be important. “We made $313 million in loans in Texas last year.”
FSA offices will continue to work through the “everyday rules, contracts and technical issues,” he said. “We will continue to look at staffing, and we may have to reallocate staff from one county to another, or use jump teams to fill in. We will continue to make certain the FSA offices have the tools they need.”
Clients Come First
Dolcini said he has visited 32 states in the last 13 months. “Everywhere I go, I find that our FSA staff and our USDA colleagues have the interest of our customers first and foremost in their work. “
Farmers in the High Plains seem to be looking at a pretty good cotton crop, Dolcini said, but are concerned that the price is not where they would like it. The trip to Lubbock, his first time in the Southwest Plains, gave him an opportunity to update farmers on the farm bill rollout. He also visited a cotton gin and the Lubbock USDA office.
Dolcini also commented on the recent flooding in South Carolina. “We know that cleanup has started, and we have some good people on the ground assisting.” He said damage to South Carolina agriculture will be massive.