USDA Under Secretary of Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey toured the wildfire-scorched landscapes of Oklahoma and the drought-stricken acres of the Texas Panhandle this week, hearing firsthand from struggling families and producers how the adverse conditions are affecting their livelihood and what USDA programs have helped and which ones need improvement in aiding farm families in their recovery efforts.
“I wanted to get out to hear how our programs are working and get to some of the areas that experienced fires either a year ago or are going through it right now,” Northey said Tuesday at the Hemphill County Texas A&M AgriLife Beef Cattle Conference and Ag Tour at Canadian, Texas.
“Certainly we’ve got some folks that are going through some challenging times, whether that’s the drought or wildfires. Folks that had good wheat yields last year are saying they’ve got some that is zeroed out or near zeroed out — they are going to graze it out rather than take it to harvest. They need the grazing, number one, and the wheat is poor, number two.
“We are hearing from some of the folks that went through the wildfires last year how some of the programs, such as rebuilding fences or being able to manage some of the areas where you have some destruction from the fires, cleaning up those areas.”
Northey discussed changes to USDA programs such as the Livestock Forage Program. “We’ve changed some planting dates on the LFP. There were some folks that if they planted after Oct. 1, they were completely unavailable to sign up for the program. Now we can have folks sign up,” he said, adding, that that while the changes were announced Monday in Oklahoma, they will soon be in effect in Texas.
Earlier this year, Northey said Congress also changed some of the rules on the Livestock Indemnity Program, “allowing animals that are sold for lower value, that didn’t die from natural disasters like wildfires or hurricanes or snowstorms, to be able to have part of the value of those animals paid.”
See, Photo Gallery: Under Secretary Northey keynotes Texas beef cattle conference luncheon, https://bit.ly/2HErcPl.
For example, he said this year there were some animals that may have survived the fire, that didn’t die, but certainly their value has dropped.
“We were able to change the rules on some of that and it is now available for folks to sign up on.”
When asked about NAFTA, Northey, who's been on the job for about six weeks, responded, “Trade is huge for agriculture. We are so productive here. Americans can’t use all the things we produce whether it’s cotton, beef or pork or cotton or soybeans. It’s important that we have trade. It’s also important that the folks that we are working with follow the rules that they agreed to follow. So, in this time when we are trying to hold folks accountable to that, I think we feel especially vulnerable in agriculture.
“I don’t know how that is all going to play out. There are several different steps. I think it’s important that we challenge those who have been flaunting the rules for a while but we also have some folks right on the front line and it’s right in agriculture where we haven’t been making a lot of money on most of our crops and livestock for a while, so a little bit of hit really impacts the bottom line.”
Northey added that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue continues to reiterate to President Trump the need to find some way of lessoning the impact on agriculture. “Hopefully that means that we don’t lose the trading opportunities and if we do, there needs to be other ways of coming in and supporting folks that are taking the brunt of those trade impacts.”