Increased Financial Hardship in Rural America: NFU Urges USDA to Expand Ag Mediation Program

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson today encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare for increased economic instability and financial stress for American family farmers and ranchers through the USDA Certified Agricultural Mediation Program.

“USDA’s August 2015 net farm income forecast confirms anecdotal evidence of increasing financial distress for producers,” noted Johnson in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “NFU encourages USDA to prepare for increased activity of direct and guaranteed loan applications, loan servicing and mediation services. We recommend the USDA utilize the USDA Certified Agricultural Mediation Program and expand the agricultural issues that are eligible for mediation services.”

Johnson noted that after several years of strong and record high net farm incomes, production costs also enjoyed an upward income trend. Johnson noted NFU’s strong support for the USDA Certified Agricultural Mediation Program which helps producers and lenders agree on solutions to conflicts with farm loans.

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Vilsack, McCarthy Hit on WOTUS, Rural Development in Remarks to NFU Convention

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks before the National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Wichita, KS, March 16. Photo: NFU

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks before the National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Wichita, KS, March 16. Photo: NFU

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy both made news and spoke frankly to the delegates and attendees of the 113th National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Wichita, Kansas.

NFU’s national convention kicked off this past Saturday and ends today. Nearly 500 members were in attendance.

McCarthy spoke to conventioneers on Monday and thanked NFU for not “having a knee-jerk reaction” to EPA’s roll out of a draft Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

McCarthy said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA are working on details of the final rule and appreciated the comments submitted by NFU. On the subject of ditches, she said that EPA needs to make the definitions clearer. “Most farm ditches were never covered before, and they won’t be in this new rule,” she promised.

Another EPA hot topic for farmers has been the lack of action on setting up to date requirements for the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard.

“The RFS is a complicated program, and we weren’t able to accomplish what we needed to do last year,” she said. “Implementing the RFS as Congress intended has been challenging,” McCarthy said.

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also spoke to NFU conventioneers on Monday.

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also spoke to NFU conventioneers on Monday. Photo: NFU

Vilsack also spoke to NFU on Monday and announced $97 million in programs to support the continued development of farmers markets, farm to school efforts and rural economies and will also expand risk management tools for specialty crops and limited-resource farmers.

“Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America’s rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation’s families,” Vilsack said.

“There are over 400 school systems in this country that are purchasing locally and this is a tremendous opportunity to help rebuild the rural economy,” Vilsack said.  He noted that the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicated more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand by selling their products locally.

“Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation’s kids.”

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Tired of Roller Coaster Milk Margins?

Graphic: USDA FSA

Graphic: USDA FSA

Under the new Farm Bill, the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) provides financial assistance to participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and the cost of feed – falls below the coverage level selected by the provider.

If you have not done so, visit your local county or regional USDA Farm Service Agency office with your production records by Dec. 5, 2014. When registering, paying only the $100 administrative fee provides basic $4 coverage on 90 percent of your production history. Additional coverage up to $8 margins is available with a premium.

Sign up for 2015 coverage so you will receive an automatic increase in production history for 2016.

Evaluate your options at to compare coverage levels based on future projections or look at historical data.

USDA Has Key Dates for New Farm Bill Safety Net Programs

from the USDA

usdafsaWASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is announcing key dates for farm owners and producers to keep in mind regarding the new 2014 Farm Bill established programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). The new programs, designed to help producers better manage risk, usher in one of the most significant reforms to U.S. farm programs in decades.

“The ARC and PLC programs are a significant reform in the farm safety net,” said Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini. “FSA wants to keep producers well informed on all steps in the process. We will continue our outreach efforts and maintain resources online to help them understand the new programs before they come in to make decisions for their operations.”

Dates associated with ARC and PLC that farm owners and producers need to know:

Sept. 29, 2014 to Feb. 27, 2015: Land owners may visit their local Farm Service Agency office to update yield history and/or reallocate base acres.

Nov. 17, 2014 to March 31, 2015: Producers make a one-time election of either ARC or PLC for the 2014 through 2018 crop years.

Mid-April 2015 through summer 2015: Producers sign contracts for 2014 and 2015 crop years.

October 2015: Payments for 2014 crop year, if needed.

USDA leaders will visit with producers across the country to share information and answer questions on the ARC and PLC programs.

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Margin Protection Program Replaces MILC – Enrollment Begins Sept. 2

USDA has announced that enrollment for the new dairy program – the Margin Protection Program – will begin on September 2.

MPP replaces Milk Income Loss Contracts.

The voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson commended USDA on their timely rollout of the dairy Margin Protection Program and for including provisions that will help America’s family farmers with their risk management needs.

“America’s family-run dairy farms are in great need for these kind of risk management tools to help them manage risk that is beyond their control,” said Johnson.

“The family farmer provision, included as part of the program, will allow many of this nation’s family-operated dairy farms to breathe a sigh of relief now that they have adequate risk management tools in hand. It is unfortunate that the Congress did not include a dairy stabilization program that would have helped take the volatility out of milk prices,” Johnson added.

USDA also announced the Dairy Product Donation Program (DPDP), which will donate dairy products to low-income people, including food banks, state and local agencies and advocacy organizations.

Dairy farmers should also be aware of an online tool USDA has created to help them determine their level of coverage under MPP. Follow this link to use the tool.

The Margin Protection Program, which replaces the Milk Income Loss Contract program, gives participating dairy producers the flexibility to select coverage levels best suited for their operation. Enrollment begins Sept. 2 and ends on Nov. 28, 2014, for 2014 and 2015. Participating farmers must remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

Dairy operations enrolling in the new program must comply with conservation compliance provisions and cannot participate in the Livestock Gross Margin dairy insurance program. Farmers already participating in the Livestock Gross Margin program may register for the Margin Protection Program, but the new margin program will only begin once their Livestock Gross Margin coverage has ended.

Call or visit your local USDA Farm Services Agency office to learn more or to enroll in MPP. You can also view or download the USDA’s fact sheet on MPP here.

Two Notes from USDA on Conservation Reserve Program

fsalogo-featUSDA has issued two recent notices on the Conservation Reserve Program.

The first is just a reminder for farmers or landowners selling acres enrolled in CRP. Essentially, if CRP acres are sold, the original CRP contract must be revised and signed by the new owner within 60 days. If the contract is terminated by the new owner, the original CRP participant will be on the hook to refund USDA some payments:

If the new landowner elects not to continue the CRP contract, the contract will be terminated. When a contract is terminated, refund of the following payments plus interest is required from the original CRP participant: all annual rental payments, all cost share payments, signup incentive payments, and practice incentive payments.  Liquidated damages are also assessed.

Refunds of payments will not be required in cases where the owner’s estate or the heirs do not succeed to the contract.  There are other cases that do not require the refund of payments, when a participant loses control of the land, such as eminent domain.

The other notice was that under the new Farm Bill early termination of some CRP contracts will be allowed. Early outs are available for the following contract types:

  • CP1-establishment of permanent grasses
  • CP2-establishment of permanent grasses
  • CP3-tree planting
  • CP10-grass cover already established
  • CP11-tree cover already established

Here’s a link to a USDA fact sheet on early CRP contract terminations under the new Farm Bill

As always, you can receive more information by contacting your local USDA Farm Services Agency office.

USDA Update on 2014 Farm Bill Implementation

Outlined below is a list, by Farm Bill title, of the components of the recently enacted Farm Bill and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s progress in implementing the new law. This was released by USDA on August 6, 22014.


TITLE I – Commodity Programs

  • Agricultural Risk Coverage Program and Price Loss Coverage Program: On April 29, USDA began a competitive process to award funding for Farm Bill decision aids and outreach tools for the new Agricultural Risk Coverage Program and Price Loss Coverage Program. Awards totaling $6 million were announced in May 2014. On August 1, farmers and ranchers began receiving acreage history and yield updates to prepare them for later enrollment in these safety-net programs.
  • Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance: On April 14, USDA published a final rule to implement the disaster assistance provisions. Sign up for these programs began on April 15, 2014.
    • As of July 31, 2014, approximately 238,000 applications have been received and $1.85 billion in payments have been disbursed through the Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, and Tree Assistance Program.
    • On July 31, USDA extended the deadline for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program to August 15, 2014.
    • On July 22, USDA announced Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) assistance for losses to bush or tree fruit crops due to frost or freeze during the 2012 crop year.
  • Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: On June 23, USDA announced new support for beginning farmers and ranchers, including waiving fees for certain disaster assistance programs, eliminating payment reductions under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and increasing payment rates by 50 percent under Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).
  • Dairy Forward Pricing Program: On March 21, USDA re-established the Dairy Forward Pricing Program and on March 28, extended Milk Income Loss Contracts until September 1.
  • Loan Rates: On June 24, USDA announced loan rates for 2014 Crop Peanuts. County and regional loan rates were announced in a press release on March 28, 2014.
  • Extension of Programs: On March 28, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) published in the Federal Register notices for the extension of the following programs: (1) Marketing Assistance Loans; (2) Milk Income Loss Contract; (3) Dairy Indemnity Payment Program; (4) Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program; (5) Loan Deficiency Payments; and (6) Sugar.

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FSA Update: Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers

The following is from USDA Farm Service Agency:

The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes a new dairy program, the Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers (MPP-Dairy), which will replace the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program no later than September 1, 2014.  The MPP-Dairy program is a voluntary program that provides dairy operations with risk management coverage that will compensate producers when the difference between the all-milk price and the average cost of feed falls below a certain level selected by the producers in a dairy operation.

Eligible producers can obtain either a catastrophic level of coverage for their dairy operation by paying a $100 administrative fee annually or they may obtain increased coverage at various levels by paying a premium in addition to the administrative fee.  Available price coverage levels begin at $4.00 and coverage may be increased in $.50 increments through $8.00 per hundredweight.  Available coverage percentages begin at 25 percent and coverage may be increased in 5 percent increments through 90 percent.  A dairy operation’s selection of a $4.00 coverage level with a coverage percentage of 90 is considered the catastrophic level of coverage.  Indemnity payments under the program will be triggered when margins fall below the producer-selected levels.

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Hong Kong Market Reopens for U.S. Beef

From the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the United States and Hong Kong have agreed on new terms and conditions that pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Hong Kong.

“This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies,” said Vilsack. “Hong Kong is already the fourth largest market for U.S. beef and beef product exports, with sales there reaching a historic high of $823 million in 2013. We look forward to expanded opportunities there for the U.S. beef industry now that all trade restrictions are lifted,” Vilsack said.

Under the new terms, Hong Kong will permit the import of the full range of U.S. beef and beef products, consistent with access prior to December 2003. The new terms become effective today, June17, 2014. Previously, only deboned beef from all cattle and certain bone-in beef from cattle less than 30 months of age could be shipped from the United States to Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador and Sri Lanka also lifted their longstanding restrictions to provide full access for U.S. beef and beef products.

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Two New USDA Conservation Programs are Open for Application by Farmers

The 2014 Farm Bill has yielded two new conservation programs at USDA which have opened their application processes to begin spending up to $368 million across the country to restore wetlands, support outdoor recreation opportunities and boost rural economies.

The new programs are Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).

ACEP is the consolidation of three former programs – the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program—into one to make conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water according to a USDA release.

ACEP contains two primary components. The first, agricultural lands, provides funds to those eligible for the purchase of agricultural land easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation value of eligible land.

Both ACEP programs have application for funding deadlines in early June 2014. Please check with your regional or county Farm Services Agency office for complete information.

The second is the wetland reserve component which provides landowners funds to purchase an easement and for restoration of wetlands and improving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. USDA said that lands that are eligible for a wetland reserve easement include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored.

VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and tribal governments to increase opportunities for landowners of private lands to make their land available for public recreation.

Landowners may learn more from their regional or county Farm Services Agency or by visiting the Natural Resources Conservation Service online.