Grain and soybean farmers gathered in San Antonio this week for the annual Commodity Classic agree that implementation of the newly passed Agriculture Act of 2014 will determine how well the new program works.
The implementation process could be a tedious one, says Wade Cowan, a guar, wheat, grain sorghum, soybean and cotton farmer from Brownfield, Texas, and vice president of the American Soybean Association.
“Bottlenecks in West Texas are likely,” Cowan said during an ASA press conference. He said with trimmed-down Farm Service Agency (FSA) staffs, the agency “will be under a lot of pressure.” He hopes to see at least some temporary employees added to assist implementation of a farm program that will be significantly different from past legislation.
With farm program benefits tied to county-level yields, Cowan said it will be essential that FSA get those yield numbers right. “If not, the safety net can become a hammock or nothing. It is important that we implement the program right or it will be a mess.”
With a varied crop mix, Cowan may be looking at several options, including STAX for cotton, so he’s anxious to see the numbers for each alternative program.
“It will be a complex issue for our farm,” he said. “We face a very difficult learning curve and it will be time-consuming. Our fear is that some decisions may be made by farm lenders and not farmers themselves. We have to maintain the flexibility to grow what the market says to grow, what the market needs and the people demand.”
He said he was pleased that the law includes a supplemental coverage Option (SCO) that improves a farm’s safety net. “Our biggest hope is that this will be implemented,” he said.
ASA President Ray Gaesser said the association is pleased “to see a farm bill passed and with a streamlined conservation program and a safety net. This program allows farmers to produce for the market,” he said, “and kept us clear of WTO challenges.”
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National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) past President Bing Von Bergen said the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) probably fits most wheat growers better than the Price Loss coverage (PLC) option. “But if wheat drops to $4 a bushel, that might change. It may also be different for wheat growers in the Southern states who graze cattle.”
Paul Penner, NAWG president, said the new farm law offers farmers more options than did previous legislation. “We can tailor coverage to the crop or farm unit. Decisions may depend on the price of corn, the Renewable Fuel Standard, weather, interest rates, or the value of the dollar.”
The key, he said, is that farmers have choices.
Martin Barbre, National Corn Growers Association president, also believes ARC will be the best option for most corn producers. “ARC seems to be the most workable program. But we still need to see the details. It was wise,” he added,” that Congress included some farmer education funds in the bill.”
Those funds will allow NCGA and other associations to develop educational materials for their growers when details are made available.
J.B. Stewart, Chairman, Board of Directors, National Sorghum Producers, said the farm law “is a long way from implementation. But we want to make sure the rule-making reflects the intent of Congress. We’re appointing committees to work with implementation.” He said committees on commodity title, conservation and energy and crop insurance will begin to look at the farm program and work to get rules in place that reflect what legislators intended.”
Stewart said it is important to keep things moving, “but not too fast. We don’t expect sign-up until August or September. We want to make certain we understand all the caveats in the program before we sign up. Once we sign, we are in that specific program for five years.”
He said the farm program is overall a good one. “It’s adequate and fiscally responsible, but it is not simple.”
Barbre said other legislative matters also bear scrutiny, including a barge fuel tax the industry needs and is willing to pay for but that Congress seems unwilling to pass. “The word ‘tax’ is an issue,” he said. “Some sections of Congress don’t want to tax anything.”
He also said the association is watching for details on a new Clean Water Act clarification that would define “Waters of the United States.” “We believe the term navigable should stay in the language,” he said. “We hope to keep that in.”
He also noted that the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Foods would be a benefit to the industry by establishing, by federal law, how foods would be labeled. “That will be better than a patchwork of state laws.”
The proposal would add commonsense, he said, to the potential for genetically modified food labeling. “GMO is a hot button for the industry and for consumers.”
It’s also a trade issue, said Cowan, especially in Europe where biotechnology remains a problem for trade. “We need to convince Europe to follow scientific principles,” he said.
The annual Commodity Classic broke attendance records with more than 7,000 attendees, Gaesser said.