Farmers should assume that the March 31 deadline to reallocate base, update yields and elect either the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) option in the new farm bill is set in stone.
“We are assuming that deadline is in concrete,” says Val Dolcini, administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “FSA needs to work through the register in April, so we don’t anticipate this deadline will change.” Farmers who come into FSA offices before the March 31 deadline and sign the register to set up an appointment – even if the appointment is in April – will be considered as filed, according to FSA.
Dolcini says traffic has increased over the past few weeks as farmers take advantage of an extra month to update yields and base. “We’re seeing heavy foot traffic in FSA offices all across the country.”
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FSA has coordinated with universities, farmers, commodity organizations and others to educate producers on the options available in the Agriculture Act of 2014. Thousands of meetings, 3 million postcards and other communication efforts have helped inform farmers about the new program. “We will send out another 2 million plus postcards next week. We are seeing the numbers (of sign-ups) creep up.”
The decision in late February to delay the deadline until March 31 offered “a little reprieve,” for farmers and landowners to take advantage of web-based tools to help with program decisions. “Now is the time,” he says.
Failure to select could be costly
Consequences of not electing a program could be costly. “If a farmer does not make an election he will automatically be deferred to PLC and will lose program benefits for 2014,” Dolcini says.
He applauds Texas A&M University, the University of Illinois and others for developing tools that aid farmers in making these decisions, which will last through the life of the farm bill.
“We have plenty of good resources available for farmers. University decision aid websites have had a lot of visitors.” Farmers’ increasing use and comfort with computer technology has made the process easier for many, he says.
Dolcini says FSA hit the ground running as soon as the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed into law last February. “Within 60 days we rolled out the livestock and forage programs and have been working steadily since. We’re now working on ARC and PLC sign up. Coordination among FSA, universities, commodity organizations and customers has been great.”
Improved technology at FSA offices, in addition to 1,000 temporary employees hired through funds allocated by Congress, help the agency grind through the workload that’s complicated by a new and complex farm program.
“We have been fortunate with our information technology system. We’ve had no system crashes.” Also, the progress FSA has made “is a testament to the men and women who work every day,” to help farmers and ranchers.
Dolcini encourages farmers and landowners to take advantage of the final two weeks to sign up for these programs. “Producers have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of available technology,” he says.