It’s a busy time for Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees across the nation as they assist farmers and ranchers in signing up for new assistance programs, field questions about a farm bill that’s radically different from any program in recent memory and go through comprehensive training sessions to master those new programs.
“It’s a complex new program,” said Val Dolcini, FSA’s newly appointed administrator. Dolcini was in San Antonio Monday for a National Noninsured Crop Assistance Program (NAP) Buy-up farm bill training session.
“We started in mid-April signing up livestock producers for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program,” Dolcini said in a phone interview with Farm Press. He said Texas and Southwest ranchers have received significant benefits from the LFP, including $470 million in payments to Texas producers who suffered losses during the extensive drought that began in 2010. “So far, more than 400,000 ranchers across the country have received payments from LFP,” he said.
Dairies began signing up for the Dairy Margin Protection Program in September. Signup for that program has been extended until Dec. 5 to “give producers more opportunity to look at web-based tools and make informed decisions,” Dolcini said. The dairy program offers producers the opportunity to buy up insurance to protect farm equity against low margins.
Dolcini said initial activity for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) options has begun and will continue “for the better part of a year.” The education process started last summer with a September 29 starting date for farmers to update yields or reallocate acreage. That process will continue through Feb. 27. They have from Nov. 17 through March 31 to decide on ARC or PLC. “It’s a one-time decision,” Dolcini said, “and is set for the life of the farm bill.”
Producers will begin enrolling in those programs next summer with payments beginning in the fall. He said several decision aid tools are available online, including several from Land Grant Universities, to help producers evaluate the options. “We encourage producers to use these tools and play with the numbers,” he said. “The FSA decision aid tool is available at FSA.USDA.Gov. “Look for the farm bill link.”
Dolcini said the San Antonio training session, which included representatives from all 50 states, covered the NAP, which includes crops not covered by typical crop insurance policies—fruits and native forages, for instance. “This program is improved from the last farm bill,” Dolcini said. “Producers may get more coverage on higher yields and prices. It’s a good tool and will be helpful to beginning farmers and possibly others who have not used FSA before. This will offer a good opportunity to get acquainted.”
He said the new options in the farm program come with a bit of a learning curve but said he’s been pleased with the participation in farm bill education meetings across the country. “ARC and PLC will be a big part of the agricultural economy next year,” he said.
He also encouraged farmers across the nation to participate in FSA county elections which began Monday and will continue through Dec. 5.