FSA administrator, secretary of ag talk importance of USDA programs

At the recent American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a number of developments within his department that should help farmers and ranchers across the country.

“At USDA, our goal is to provide all farmers, including new and underserved producers, with the opportunity to receive the assistance they need to continue farming, to build and maintain their competitive-edge, and to access more, new, and better markets,” he said. “Working together we can ensure American agriculture is as resilient as ever.”

Vilsack hopes to be able to implement measures that will provide a holistic approach to emergency assistance, by lowering input costs through investments in domestic fertilizer production, and by promoting competition in agricultural markets.

According to the release from the USDA, the department will continue to make progress in the following areas:

• Assisting producers facing high input costs to access domestic, innovative fertilizer capacity.

• Improving risk protection for underserved producers.

• Investing in new choices and meat processing capacity for livestock producers.

• Providing relief for producers impacted by disaster and the pandemic.

The administration aims to help lower costs for producers, increase competition and access to market opportunities and ensure equity in designing and developing programs to help all producers. According to the release, the “announcements are a continuation of the Biden-Harris administration’s focus on targeting assistance based on need, reaching everyone who is eligible, and removing the bureaucratic burden on producers.”

In addition, new programs should help fill gaps in 2020-2021 Natural Disaster Assistance, also known as ERP phase 2, and 2020 Pandemic Assistance, or PARP. Eligibility requirements are available on the FSA website and at local FSA service centers.

The ERP Phase 2 and PARP application period is open from Jan. 23 through June 2. For more information, producers should contact their local USDA service center or reference the ERP Phase Two Fact Sheet, PARP Fact Sheet or the ERP Phase Two-PARP Comparison Fact Sheet.

Farm Service Agency

On Jan. 10, the USDA also made updates to several conservation, livestock and crop disaster assistance programs to give more farmers, ranchers, and tribes the opportunity to apply for and access programs that support recovery following natural disasters. FSA expanded eligibility and enhanced available benefits for a suite of its programs. These updates will provide critical assistance to producers who need to rebuild and recover after suffering catastrophic losses of production and infrastructure due to natural disasters.

FSA has updated the following programs: The Emergency Conservation Program, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-raised Fish, the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Zach Ducheneaux, Farm Service Agency administrator, in a separate interview, said the rule changes Vilsack discussed are meaningful.

“ERP phase two, of course, is the remainder of the $10 billion that was authorized in September of 2021,” he said. “To mitigate the impacts of disasters for 2020 and 2021. And this is going to be a revenue-based approach to try to catch the folks that didn’t have some type of coverage available to them.”

In the first phase of ERP, existing information—whether it was from RMA or other data sources—will be used to determine an amount to pay producers in addition to what their indemnified losses might not have been to fill the gaps and to catch everybody else that didn’t have a tool available to them.

The best place for those producers who have questions can go is their local FSA office, Ducheneaux said. FSA also leans heavily on their cooperators too, he said—groups like the National Black Growers Council, Rural Coalition, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and Intertribal Ag Council—among others.

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“All of these organizations out there have a network of communication with producers,” he said. “We’re including or incorporating their presence and their ability to help us fill the gaps through these cooperative agreements where we help fund their technical assistance specialists for example.”

The interaction with local offices and cooperators is a critical tool for producers needing assistance. Most think disaster programs are aimed at crop producers, which most are, but livestock producers need to take advantage too.

“They’re a few decades behind what our crop disaster programs are,” Ducheneaux said. “And many of our livestock producers just learn how to endure and get through to the next year. And our goal is with the changes that we’re making to the livestock disaster assistance programs, to have them be a better fit, a better tool.”

The end goal is getting disaster assistance in a more timely manner to those producers who need it, regardless if it’s crop or livestock losses. Ducheneaux said feedback FSA has been getting from producers will be incorporated and help improve the programs so there’s a full suite of disaster assistance programs. The need for a full suite became evident after COVID and in light of the war in Ukraine, he said.

“Our food system, and the ability to produce is fragile and often linked to externalities that we need to start to take control of fertilizer development is one of those,” he said. “Very early on in the war in Ukraine, it became apparent that that that was going to pose a problem and drive prices up for our producers.”

Ducheneaux said administrators decided after these changes, they were going to work to build domestic solutions for that. The fertilizer program Vilsack announced is going to help to start and stand up some of these local and regional opportunities within the U.S. fertilizer development processes.

“So that we can help close that loop and bring more of that into our own control,” he said. “Same with the meatpacking industry. The more and better markets initiative has been one of our main talking points since the secretary’s confirmation hearing and giving producers options to go with our market especially in the meat industry is critical.”

Ducheneaux hopes this will help stand the local “mom and pop” and regional processing facilities, and maybe even an organic facility to give the producers more options when it comes to harvesting cattle.

“(It will) actually give the producer a tool or a pathway apart from just the regular industry which left so many of them in dire straits when capacity was shut down,” he said. “Or take the Holcomb fire for instance. It shouldn’t have had that big an impact on the live cattle industry, but it sure did.”

Ducheneaux said it was felt all the way back in his home state of South Dakota and beyond.

“It’s too fragile, and it’s too consolidated,” he said. “So we’re really looking at a lot of these options to help these producer oriented groups develop some of this capacity and it’s not an effort to take it all local, we understand there still needs to be the throughput. But if a producer has a choice with some of their production, you’re helping them keep that money closer to home.”

For more information about the programs available to farmers and ranchers visit www.farmers.gov.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].