Texas commodity association representatives expressed a modicum or more of frustration at aspects of the new farm program at the recent Texas Ag Forum in Austin.
Singled out for criticism were the shorthanded Farm Service Agency and the waiting time for FSA services, the complicated nature of new farm programs, STAX, wheat being locked out of certain provisions of the new program and low commodity prices, among other issues.
“This is the most complicated farm program grain sorghum farmers have ever seen,” said Wayne Cleveland, executive director, Texas Sorghum Producers. “But we are glad that we don’t have STAX (the Stacked Income Protection Plan that offers cotton farmers an insurance product that replaces traditional farm program support).
Steve Verett, executive vice president, Plains Cotton Growers, said STAX is not particularly popular with cotton growers either. STAX was created to offer cotton an add-on insurance option to replace programs scrapped following a World Trade Organization ruling that the U.S. cotton program was market distorting.
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The fear, say Verett and Cleveland, is that other commodities may face a similar fate in future farm bills. “We were the first commodity to be the lamb taken to slaughter,” Verett said. “We just want to look like everybody else. But for now, we are more worried about others looking more like us. We’re not giving up but it is a challenge.”
Who will be next?
Cleveland said sorghum and other commodity representatives wonder “what commodity will be next?”
He said sorghum growers have also expressed concern that they do not have an opportunity in this program to “split farms coverage into dryland and irrigated practice.” He said rotation and double-crop issues may cause problems for grain sorghum producers. Grain sorghum planted behind wheat, for instance, could be considered a “subsequent crop,” and not covered under either the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options in the new farm program. “That could be a real issue,” he said.
David Gibson, executive director, Texas Corn Producers, said FSA staffing issues have resulted in farmers being “treated unfairly. It takes a long time to get taken care of,” he said. “
“Our farmers who got in early had no problems,” Cleveland said. “But the FSA hiring freeze has been an issue. It is imperative now for farmers to get on the register. But how long will they have after that to complete the process?”
Verett said FSA staffing has been an issue and sees a need to consolidate offices to make the agency more efficient. The catch, he said, has been individuals in some counties don’t want to give up the local office, “so it doesn’t happen,” despite being proposed on numerous occasions.
Gibson said getting paperwork for guaranteed loans done in a timely manner is a critical issue. He said educating farmers about the difference in this farm program from those in the past is also important for commodity associations. “Some growers expect this program to pay,” he said. “This farm bill has no guarantees. The best outcome is that producers get no payment; that means they had a good year. Also, payments (when triggered) will be made a year after harvest.”
Rodney Mosier, executive vice president, Texas Wheat Producers Association, said wheat farmers are disappointed that they are not able to take advantage of the average production history exclusion (a feature of the farm bill that allows producers to exclude eligible bad yields when establishing yield histories). “It is not available for winter wheat this year,” Mosier said. “It is implemented for spring crops but not wheat. Winter wheat was also the first to sign up for the supplemental coverage option (SCO) and many did not know what to expect.”
Mosier said based on current wheat markets, the PLC program would likely not offer a payment this year. “It will be interesting in later years to see which program works best for wheat.”
Shelly Nutt, executive director, Texas Peanut Producers Board, expressed concern over farm receipts and mentioned a recent report that anticipated cash receipts for U.S. farmers for 2104 will suffer the biggest drop year to year since 1932. That kind of hit, she said, could mean families losing farms. “And will young people want to come back to the farm?” She wonders at the ramifications of “signing up for the wrong program.”
She also commented on the recent bankruptcy of the Clint Williams Company and the effect that has on peanut farmers who had delivered peanuts to Clint Williams buying points. She said the issue is under scrutiny by USDA as well as Texas and Oklahoma peanut associations. “USDA went to bat for us,” she said. Uncertainty remains, however, on whether farmers will be able to get paid or get their peanuts out of the loan.
She also expressed appreciation to the House Agriculture Committee, the Oklahoma Peanut Commission and Western Peanut producers.
Panel members urged farmers to continue working together to maintain the good things about the current farm program. Being separated out of the commodity title “showed how vulnerable we are,” Verett said. “Our folks in Congress are strong but are in a minority.” Others “don’t care about cotton and don’t care about agriculture. We have to get our act together even better than we have before. If it had not been for the House Agriculture Committee we wouldn’t have what we have.”
He said farmers who think the farm program has been difficult to navigate will be even more surprised at how difficult crop insurance will be. Cotton is no longer a covered commodity and producers will rely solely on insurance for a safety net—either their usual insurance or an add-on, STAX or SCO.
“Generic acreage (old cotton base) offers possible protection.” Administering a coupled and a decoupled program will offer challenges. “FSA will have to think about things differently. Their decisions affect the lives of real people. We are fortunate that we have a lot of good FSA personnel.”
He said the separation of dryland and irrigated coverage for cotton “is a positive change,” in the farm program. “That came from the House Agriculture Committee. The yield exclusion would never have happened without the House Ag Committee.”
Accentuate the positive
Panelists also praised Texas AgriLife Extension economists James Richardson and Joe Outlaw for their dedication to helping create the farm bill, as well as a decision aid tool to help farmers work through the program options and their commitment to teaching farmers how to use it.
Gibson said farm leaders now need to embrace the farm bill instead of complaining about it. “This farm bill is the one we have,” he said. “Make it the best we can; it’s all we have to deal with.”
Matt Huie, a crop and livestock producer from Beeville, Texas, moderated the panel and added a second to Gibson’s point.
“This farm bill may not be perfect,” he said, “but we are glad to have it. Cotton was left out in the cold, but overall, the farm bill is a great tool and we have to learn how to use it.”