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Vilsack touts work done on new farm bill implementation

Vilsack touts work done on new farm bill implementation
Vilsack please with USDA implementation of new farm bill. Defends department's decision to put off APH adjustment. Time required for APH would mean delay of other programs.

On the six-month anniversary of the new farm bill’s passage, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is touting progress made in its implementation.

There is no doubt much work has been done and crop insurance program sign-up should be available for producers before 2015.

However, there remains a sticking point as lawmakers are pushing the USDA to speed up the ability of disaster-stricken producers to update their Actual Production History (APH). To help ensure more benefits, the farm bill says such producers can exclude years from their APH when yields are below 50 percent of the 10-year county average.

With a heavy number of producers hit by drought in his home state, Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has been pressing Vilsack to step up the pace on the APH adjustment implementation.

“For anyone who’s facing the prospect of drought, or has suffered prolonged drought, this provision is designed to provide immediate relief,” said Lucas during a late-July hearing. Following a series of poor crops in Oklahoma, “the APH adjustment would provide widespread relief for wheat producers planting and insuring their crops this fall. Congress was clear: all producers affected by drought should be able to exclude those years. They should be able to do so immediately.”

During an August 6 press call, Vilsack -- who said he’d explained the situation to Chairman Lucas on several occasions -- insisted quick work on the APH is impossible. ““It’s a staffing issue. It comes down to that.”

Across a wide range of USDA agencies, “these are the same people involved in making decisions not just about (the APH adjustment) but also about implementation of STAX, implementation of SCO (Supplemental Coverage Option), implementation of ARC (Agricultural Risk Coverage), PLC (Price Loss Coverage), and some of the other steps that have already been taken,” said Vilsack. “We had choices to make in terms of allocating assets and directing assets in trying to get (Congressionally-mandated) work done in a certain amount of time.

“We had to make a choice and did the best we could under the circumstances. We felt it was important to move forward on STAX, on SCO, very important to move forward on ARC and PLC.

 “The reason it’s complex and takes a lot of staff time is it requires individual computations based on individual and county. Each individual county involved requires separate calculations. It’s very IT-intense and labor- and staff-intense.”

Quick as possible

The USDA, said Vilsack, has told Lucas, “we’d work on this as quickly as we possibly could. We’ll move forward on all the other priority areas. I don’t know how feasible it is for an individual crop or set of counties to designated.”

Vilsack then addressed Lucas’ desire to see at least some of the disaster-hit farmers quick access to the APH provision.

“What if you have a multitude of (adversely impacted) producers in one county and only a handful in the next? How to be fair? How to draw the line? Those are decisions that have to be made.

“We understand how important it is to (Lucas’) producers. But if we’d done APH, we wouldn’t have done STAX or SCO. I suspect (Lucas) would then be complaining we hadn’t gotten STAX and SCO done. It’s just a matter of prioritization.”

When will the APH adjustment be in place?

“We’ve indicated to the chairman that we’ll be prepared to have it in place for the 2016 crop year. That’s still the belief and goal…

“This is not a situation where there’s just one calculation being done in Washington, D.C. Every county and commodity that could be impacted requires you to go back in time to take a look at historical data and information. … The reality is I’ll stack up what (the USDA) has done in the first six months of this farm bill with the implementation of any other farm bill in terms of the work done and speed and comprehensive nature.”

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