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Published July 07, 2014, 09:45 AM

Farmers need info to make coverage choices

DEADWOOD, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not decided yet whether to include prevented-plant acres from 2014 for some federal farm program benefits in the 2014 through 2018 crop years.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

DEADWOOD, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not decided yet whether to include prevented-plant acres from 2014 for some federal farm program benefits in the 2014 through 2018 crop years.

Michael Scuse, USDA Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, declined to say how the department is coming down on the issue. “Some things we’re not going to speculate on. We’re still working through the entire process,” Scuse said, in an interview at the South Dakota Governor’s Ag Summit June 27 in Deadwood, S.D.

How prevented-plant is handled is a key issue for farmers to determine whether to sign up for the new programs in the farm bill — Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage program. The importance of the prevent-plant decision is underlined by yet another year of significant levels of prevented and failed planting in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.

Farm bill sign-up is a three-step process.

First, farmers must update bases and yields, if they so chose.

Second, they must elect their program — PLC or ARC — starting this fall and going into 2015.

Step three is to enroll in a contract, sometime in 2015. Once farmers decide, they are locked into a program for the five-year life of the farm bill. Scuse noted that USDA is putting $6 million into educational efforts, with half focused on two university teams at Illinois, Missouri and Texas, but the prevented-plant decision will be central to that for farmers in this region.

The PP question

Several U.S. senators from the Dakotas and Minnesota in early June launched a bipartisan effort to ask USDA to take prevented-plant losses into account when implementing new safety net programs created in the 2014 farm bill. But the senators asked USDA to approve prevented-plant acres in each farmer’s and county’s current year revenue calculation. They want prevented-plant included in the ARC program by using the correct current year revenue calculation.

The 2014 farm bill language was silent on how prevented-plant should be calculated, but the senators suggested it was their intent to include it.

They noted that including it would be consistent with calculations in the now repealed former policy — the 2008 farm bill’s Average Crop Revenue Election Program — which used prevented-plant acres in the calculations to determine safety net payment triggers.

“Equitable treatment can be achieved under the individual and county level Agricultural Risk Coverage Program only if approved prevented-planting acres are used in the calculation for determining current year revenue, beginning with 2014 and for future crop years,” the senators said.

“Loss of a crop due to prevented planting can be just as devastating to a farming operation as production losses due to drought, flooding,or other natural disasters,” the senators wrote in early June. “If prevented-planting acres are not properly utilized in the revenue calculation, we are concerned that the program will not provide an adequate safety net for growers.”

Benchmark yield

At the same time, the letter asked USDA to exclude prevented-planting acreage when determining the benchmark average yield per farm. This would make sure average production calculations aren’t skewed by prevented planting.

The prevented-plant acres should be excluded in the crop insurance APH (Average Production History) yield data base and included in the ACRE program, for both the individual and county level benchmark yield calculations.

It isn’t clear what will happen if USDA doesn’t agree with the senators on the prevented-plant policy request. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who signed the letter and was a farm bill negotiator, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and a farm bill negotiator, says he doesn’t think any “technical correction bill” would be possible as a fix. “That’s out the window,” he told Agweek.

Peterson says the ARC was “never something we (House leaders) were in favor of” and was put in the bill because of Senate interest. “If we had gotten our way this would not be an issue,” he says.

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