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Delay in passage of farm bill has producers playing beat-the-clock

Growing-Steede-Farms_rgbTUNICA — The nation’s farmers and agricultural landowners have some important decisions to make in the next six months.

Krysta Harden, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, met with farmers and others at the Tunica Museum on Sept. 29 to answer questions about programs available in the new farm bill.

While the delay in passage of the farm bill created some deadline challenges, Harden said USDA is working with the Extension Service in each state to help farmers and landowners understand the process, which is managed through the Farm Service Agency.

“We are trying to make the process easy for farmers and easy for FSA to implement,” she said.

Challenges that exist include a 20 percent staff reduction at FSA and a deadline of Oct. 7 to enroll in some programs, such as cotton transition assistance payments. Other deadlines extend until the end of March.

Harden said producers and landowners need to update yields and crop allocations (bases) between Sept. 29 and Feb. 27 and select the programs that best suit their needs between Nov. 17 and March 31. Mississippi farmers mostly are considering the Agricultural Risk Coverage, or ARC, program and the Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program.

Larry Falconer, Extension agricultural economist at the MSU Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said landowners and producers need to do their homework.

“They need to educate themselves about the programs and requirements. They need to make sure that their crop acreage and yield data on file at FSA is accurate, and they need to select the program that best meets their needs,” Falconer said. “Failure to make a decision will put land by default into the PLC program. Whatever program is selected, the land will be locked into it for the life of this farm bill, which means at least five years.”

Falconer said these programs replace direct payments, counter cyclical payments and other programs in the previous farm bill. They are intended to function more like crop insurance and should offer farmers more flexibility.

USDA is offering web-based educational tools, and Extension agents are conducting seminars around the state to help landowners and producers understand the process.

Mike Sullivan, Mississippi’s FSA director, said the farm bill legislation included the directive that Extension assist with training programs.

“We don’t want anyone making a quick or uninformed decision. Farmers are accustomed to getting information from their Extension offices,” he said. “This first year will demand the most attention.”

Landowners should have received letters from their county FSA office with information on their farms. Verifying the accuracy of farm’s acreage history is the first step in the process.

Farmers or landowners with questions should contact their local FSA or county Extension office.

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