Farm Bill implementation underway

Sandy Chalmers
Farmers take financial risks every year just by doing business. The 2018 Farm Bill bolsters the farm safety net programs and price support programs that give farmers stability and peace of mind to make decisions for the future.

Farmers take financial risks every year just by doing business.

The 2018 Farm Bill bolsters the farm safety net programs and price support programs that give farmers stability and peace of mind to make decisions for the future.

In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill, like others before it, demonstrates strong congressional support for farm loans, safety net, conservation and disaster assistance programs.

Now, Wisconsin Farm Service Agency employees are beginning to rollout the first of many new provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Implementation of any farm bill begins with Congress. Congress provides a legal framework for the programs and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is tasked with administering the programs. USDA leadership is continuing to work on the administrative details of the 2018 Farm Bill including: scheduling sign-up dates, writing regulations, training employees and developing software.

Secretary Perdue's timeline puts dairy at the top of the list, with signup expected in mid-June. Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage sign-up will begin in the fall, and the expected general enrollment period for the Conservation Reserve Program will be in December.

Farmers are busy people, and it can be difficult to keep track of sign-up dates and deadlines for FSA's programs. We'll send you updates on program sign-up throughout the year, and you can check farmers.gov for up-to-date information. Of course, our county FSA employees are always happy to answer your calls and emails.

No new FSA programs were added, and no programs were eliminated in the 2018 Farm Bill. We want to streamline, target and simplify our programs, with the goal of improving customer service.

Secretary Perdue wants the dairy program to roll out first. That is welcome news in Wisconsin, given the stress in the dairy industry and the failure of the 2014 Farm Bill's Margin Protection Program.

Last year, when Congress made changes to MPP that lowered premiums and calculated margins monthly, Wisconsin dairy producers responded. In 2018, FSA made $60 million in MPP payments to Wisconsin producers.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress reinvented MPP as the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. It's the same basic framework, but with a boost to coverage levels, more reductions in premiums and important new flexibility.

The maximum margin coverage level for dairy farms with five million pounds or less of production is increased to a $9.50 coverage level. We already know the January 2019 DMC margin program rate is $7.99, meaning dairy operations with the $9.50 coverage will see a payment of $1.51 per hundredweight covered.

Dairy farmers are eligible to receive a 25 percent discount on premiums if they make a one-time election locking in coverage levels until 2023.

Farmers who were enrolled in MPP-Dairy from 2014 to 2017 and paid premiums may be eligible to receive a repayment of premiums paid during those years (less indemnity received). Farmers can choose to receive 50 percent of the premium repayment in cash, or 75 percent to be applied as credit toward future premiums.

Farmers also will have the flexibility to use DMC in addition to Livestock Gross Margin-Dairy or Dairy Revenue Protection.

FSA will have a decision tool available in mid-April to help farmers analyze the best coverage options for their dairy farms.

Wisconsin FSA will hold farmer meetings in May and June regarding details on the new dairy program.

The 2018 Farm Bill also adds more opportunities for farmers to qualify for Direct Farm Ownership loans, and it increases ownership and operating loan limits. Again, this is needed in Wisconsin where the FSA's loan limits have not kept pace with the cost of doing business.

FSA's disaster programs will continue to provide needed support to our farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters. The 2018 Farm Bill also broadens conservation efforts by authorizing two CRP pilot programs that prioritize practices to benefit water resources.

The 2018 Farm Bill is an important tool, but it doesn't work without the dedication of the folks in the field, the FSA field staff and the farmers who use it to make the best decisions for their land and businesses.

Sandy Chalmers

Chalmers is the executive director of the Wisconsin State Farm Service Agency executive director