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Articles from 2009 In March


Goodbye, Corn-man

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Last week I got the sad news that my High School ag teacher had passed away. His name was Larry Wesley, but everyone who knew him and loved him - and there were many - just called him Corn, or Corn-man.

Corn was one of Illinois' more gifted high school ag teachers, a genial instructor who blended textbook knowledge with down-home wisdom borne from his Southern Illinois roots. He taught us about agriculture and FFA, and a whole lot more about life in general.

He came to my high school in the early 70s. Leaf River was a small town school with little going for it other than the music program. Corn made the kids proud to be in FFA. He encouraged us to try out for soil judging and speech contests. We started winning proficiency awards on the section and state level. We started believing in ourselves. Suddenly the ag and shop programs weren't just for the unteachable, unreachable kids. It was for all of us. For kids who had felt like losers, this was giddy stuff.

He was one of those teachers you remember, even as age clouds the memories. He made me want to stick with agriculture as a career, and he inspired countless others to do the same.

After I graduated and my school disappeared in a wave of consolidation, Corn moved to nearby Stillman Valley, another small school with a much bigger budget, better athletic teams - just a nice step up for him. He went on to have an even bigger impact there.

There was a reason why folks turned out for his FFA banquets (and I was lucky to speak at two of them). Corn had his audiences roaring, telling stories with his 'aw shucks' delivery. He was a hard act to follow.

He never lost the human touch, as Emily Pell, a Stillman grad told me in 2002 when he retired from teaching. "The FFA at our high school is over one-fourth the size of our student body," she told me. "We have corn to thank for that. He encourages all of us to find our niche in agriculture, or life in general."

Former students remember how he talked about his family and his upbringing in Southern Illinois. "We learned to be proud of who we were and where we came from," Emily said. "No matter what the situation, he had a story or a joke to tell. Corn made us all strive to do our best for him. Going that extra mile for Corn was something we all did. All of his students wanted to make him proud."

Corn's visitation lasted six hours. Hundreds of former students and friends came in to pay their respects. That's the mark of a great teacher, and a great friend.

Teachers never really know the kind of impact they have on the students they teach. They do their job and hope that some of it sinks in. Rarely do they realize that some of what they do and say can have a profound impact on young people for years to come.

Kind of makes you want to say "Job well done" the next time you bump in to your local high school ag teacher.

Share a story about your high school ag teacher in the comment box below.

USDA and IRS want to collaborate on policing farm payments

For the full article, click on the headline above.

In response to the discovery of nearly $50 million in payments to ineligible farmers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in March that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have begun efforts to ensure that high-income individuals and entities who request USDA payments meet income limits set forth in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Beginning with the 2009 crop year and for successive years, in order to be eligible for USDA payments all recipients will be required to sign a separate form which grants IRS the authority to provide income information to USDA for verification purposes.

Before IRS will provide the information for a particular producer, IRS form 8821, or a similar form, must be obtained from each producer authorizing the release of information. Failure to obtain such form will make the producer ineligible for program benefits.

A written release from each producer or payment recipient will be required for this process. The Farm Service Agency will not receive actual tax data for the producers. All disclosure and Privacy Act provisions will be adhered to by the Farm Service Agency.

Statements from Vilsack and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, both stated the goal is to limit excessive payments and make certain USDA payment are not issued to individuals and entities that exceed eligibility limits established by law.

In October 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that because the USDA does not have the management controls - such as reviewing tax returns - it could not ensure that payments are made only to qualified individuals. The GAO report also found that of the 1.8 million individuals receiving farm payments over a three year period (2003 through 2006), more than 2,500 had an average adjusted gross income (AGI) that made them ineligible for farm payments. Because of the inability of USDA to verify income, more than $49 million was paid to ineligible individuals.

The 2008 Farm Bill mandates that recipients of many Farm Bill payments, including direct payments, are not eligible for these payments if their gross nonfarm income average for the previous three taxable years is greater than $500,000. Additionally, direct payments cannot be paid to participants whose average adjusted gross farm income for the three-year period exceeds $750,000. Participants are ineligible for conservation payments if their nonfarm average gross income for the three-year period exceeds $1 million, unless at least two-thirds of their total average adjusted gross income is derived from farming.

Republicans unsure of system

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Frank Lucas along with eight of his Republican colleagues on the Agriculture committee sent a critical letter to Vilsack asking him to rethink USDA's recent announcement that the department will require all farmers to sign a form, which grants the IRS the authority to provide income information to USDA for verification purposes. Failure to comply with this new requirement will make the producer ineligible for program benefits.

According to a recent release from USDA, this new requirement is in response to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was released in October 2008. In that report, GAO found that between 2003 and 2006, there were 2,702 recipients of USDA program payments who exceeded income eligibility guidelines. Roughly two million individuals receive USDA program payments each year.

They wrote that this invasion of privacy is clearly against Congressional intent.

"Congress allowed for a verification of income statement, prepared by a certified public accountant or another third party acceptable to you, to be submitted every three years that confirms the producer's adjusted gross income which makes he or she eligible to receive payment," the letter stated.

"By forcing every producer to give USDA the power to verify with the IRS information submitted by the farmer or rancher takes away this choice, unnecessarily invades privacy and contravenes the intent of Congress. We, of course, do not want ineligible producers receiving payments, but Congress provided an explicit mechanism to address the problem without involving the IRS," the representatives added.

In addition, the representatives voiced frustration over the short period of during which farmers can comment on the announcement. "We will be surprised if farmers even get the word that this new obligation is imposed on them before the comment period is closed on April 6, 2009."

 

Senate Ag Committee to Hold Hearing on Four Nominations

The Senate Agriculture Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon to consider four key nominations to USDA posts. Under consideration will be Jim Miller, of Virginia, to be undersecretary of Agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services; Dallas Tonsager, of South Dakota, to be undersecretary of Agriculture for rural development; Joe Leonard Jr., of the District of Columbia, to be an assistant secretary of Agriculture for civil rights; and Kathleen Merrigan, of Massachusetts, to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. in room 328A of the Russell Senate Office Building. The hearing will be Web cast at http://agriculture.senate.gov/.

Wednesday morning the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will hold a hearing to review the state of the farm economy. USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber, Iowa State University ag economist Neil Harl, and Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City-Omaha Vice President Jason Henderson will be among the witness set to testify during that hearing.

ACRE and DCP Sign-up Extended

USDA has decided to extend by 10 weeks the sign-up period for producers to select the new Average Crop Revenue Election program that was created in the 2008 Farm Bill or the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment program. Originally the deadline for signup was June 1, 2009 but is now set for Aug. 14, 2009. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Tuesday while testifying on Capitol Hill before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

"In light of the complexities of the new farm bill we decided to extend the DCP and ACRE sign-up deadline to help ensure that America's farmers have enough information and time to determine whether to participate in the ACRE Program," said Vilsack. "The DCP and ACRE programs play a critical role in the farm safety net and it is vital that we act to support the hard work of the farmers we depend on."

The tentative start of sign-up for ACRE and DCP programs was to be Wednesday, April 1. In response to a question from a reporter asking if sign-up was still several weeks away, Vilsack responded that sign-up was likely several days from starting.

For more information about the ACRE or DCP programs contact your local Farm Service Agency Office or www.fsa.usda.gov.

House Ag Subcommittee Will Review State of Farm Economy

The Senate Agriculture Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon to consider four key nominations to USDA posts. Under consideration will be Jim Miller, of Virginia, to be undersecretary of Agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services; Dallas Tonsager, of South Dakota, to be undersecretary of Agriculture for rural development; Joe Leonard Jr., of the District of Columbia, to be an assistant secretary of Agriculture for civil rights; and Kathleen Merrigan, of Massachusetts, to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

The meeting is scheduled for in room 328A of the RussellSenateOfficeBuilding. The hearing will be Web cast at http://agriculture.senate.gov/.

Wednesday morning the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will hold a hearing to review the state of the farm economy. USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber, Iowa State University ag economist Neil Harl, and Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City-Omaha Vice President Jason Henderson will be among the witness set to testify during that hearing.

Deadline Extended for ACRE and DCP Sign-up

USDA has decided to extend by 10 weeks the sign-up period for producers to select the new Average Crop Revenue Election program that was created in the 2008 Farm Bill or the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment program. Originally the deadline for signup was June 1, 2009 but is now set for Aug. 14, 2009. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Tuesday while testifying on Capitol Hill before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

"In light of the complexities of the new farm bill we decided to extend the DCP and ACRE sign-up deadline to help ensure that America's farmers have enough information and time to determine whether to participate in the ACRE Program," said Vilsack. "The DCP and ACRE programs play a critical role in the farm safety net and it is vital that we act to support the hard work of the farmers we depend on."

The tentative start of sign-up for ACRE and DCP programs was to be Wednesday, April 1. In response to a question from a reporter asking if sign-up was still several weeks away, Vilsack responded that sign-up was likely several days from starting.

For more information about the ACRE or DCP programs contact your local Farm Service Agency Office or www.fsa.usda.gov.

Udderly Stressed? Catch This Conference Call

It's no secret. Many dairying families are stressed out by current milk prices and zero-margins. To help alleviate some of that mounting stress, Pennsylvania's Center for Dairy Excellence has scheduled a special "Mastering the Dairy Business" conference call for Wednesday, April 8.

During this one-hour, Noon-time session, Dr. Randy Weigel from the University of Wyoming will share tips on how to get through the physical, mental and emotional toll and financial strains. He'll also discuss the warning signs that signal when stress may be taking too great a toll on individuals or on loved ones, partners, friends and/or neighbors.

Weigel is no stranger to farm crisis situations. He helped Mid West farmers develop stress-coping techniques during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

"This conference call is intended to provide information you can use to work through periods of stress and maintain focus on long-term mission and goals," says John Frey, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence. The call is limited to 35 dairy producers. Registration may be anonymous, but is required to participate. Participation is on a first-come, first-served basis.

To register, call the center at 717-346-0849 with name, phone number, e-mail address and the date of the call. Once registered, participants will receive the call-in number and code.

For more details, contact the Center for Dairy Excellence at 717-346-0849 or e-mail info@centerfordairyexcellence.org.  

Editor's note: Tap into a bit of Weigel's counsel on this Web site by clicking on the "Web Exclusives" tab, then on "Agriculture's Very Personal Nature". You'll also find a wealth of advice at ces.uwyo.edu/LIFE/Personal_Nature_Main.htm.

Agriculture's Very Personal Nature

In agriculture, stress is an unavoidable part of running businesses that whole families depend on for a living. Nowhere in agriculture is this intricate relationship more complex than on the family farm.

Contrary to what some men think, stress isn't just a "woman thing." Men just have a harder time recognizing it in themselves.

As author Warren Farrell notes in The Myth of Male Power, "When men feel needed primarily as wallets, they're more prone to depression and even suicide. And, they may react more violently because of it, abuse alcohol or other drugs or simply withdraw."

So when it becomes evident via sadness and mood swings, it's time to get help. It's something that can't be "worked off" by longer hours in the field or the barn.

Unaddressed, it can turn into depression, a serious medical condition, points out Randy Weigel, Extension family living specialist at University of Wyoming. And he adds, "Men would rather kill themselves than admit they are depressed."

Depression takes a greater toll on men than women, according to the National Institute of Mental health. While more women attempt suicide, more men actually succeed – at four times the rate women do.

Even if suicide is totally abominable, men suffering from stress-induced depression are twice as likely as undepressed men to develop heart disease or die suddenly because of heart problems. So it pays to sensitively and constructively tackle stress symptoms head on.

How to help

Here are a few tips offered by Weigel and others on how to help one deal with stress and depression:

Talk with them. Family and friends must note that they're concerned, that the stress is affecting their relationship and that proactively seeking counsel can help.

Don't moralize. Don't press him or her to "put on a happy face," or "snap out of it." Don't say "toughen up!" These comments are often taken as criticism, making them feel worse after hearing them.

Be available. Tell him or her how much you care. Then listen without judgment. Urge them to seek professional help, and offer to go along if doing so will help.

Watch and listen for signs of suicide. Yes, this is a horrible suggestion, but for an extremely serious issue. Take any mention of it seriously. Sometimes people thinking about killing themselves begin comments with "After I'm gone..." That's a signal that it's time for you to seek help from your doctor or get a referral to another health professional.

More helpful tools

Weigel and Extension counterparts across the country developed a helpful Web site addressing the personal nature of agriculture. You can find it and a wealth of useful information at ces.uwyo.edu/LIFE/Personal_Nature_Main.htm. All of it can be read via your computer, printed out, or downloaded to your computer for future use and reference.

On that site, you'll find publications dealing with coping with natural disasters, depression, angry customers and surviving tragedy. One specifically addresses "Men seeking help: Where do cowboys go to cry?"

Another Stress Series resource includes six sections on developing healthy attitudes, recognizing when you need help, spotting unrecognized stress, learning to relax and more. Yet another resource addresses helping men overcome personal crisis.

Sign-up for Flood-Plain Recovery Extended

Thanks to a surge of federal funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Northeast landowners with flood-prone land have new funding for floodplain easements and restoration. But don't dawdle. April 10 is the deadline for signing up at local USDA/Natural Resource Conservation Service centers.

Up to $30 million can be spent in each state via the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Nationally, the will be used to restore an estimated 60,000 acres of frequently flooded land to its natural state and create jobs. For details on the EWP floodplain easements, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/Floodplain/index.html.  

"We'll be working with landowners in rural communities who voluntarily agree to restore the floodplains to their natural condition by placing their land into easements," explains Christine Clarke, NRCS Massachusetts State Conservationist. "These easements will convert environmentally sensitive lands into riparian corridors and wooded bottomlands that are so vital for fish and wildlife habitat and to mitigate downstream flooding."

The funding includes both technical and financial assistance. The goal is to have all floodplain easements acquired and restored within 12 to 18 months.

The program allows NRCS to purchase easements and do restoration work on lands damaged by flooding. Benefits include increased flood protection, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality and increased carbon sequestration as permanent vegetative cover is re-established.