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Ag Committee Checks on USDA Farm Bill Work

It's time to plant, not sign up for farm bill programs, but anyone kept out of fields by rain will have a chance to hear Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tell the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday how USDA is putting the new law into effect.

The committee hearing, which starts at 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time, gives senators a chance to ask about USDA's progress in writing new rules.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters Tuesday that he wants to find out what Vilsack is doing to define and enforce the law's requirement that farmers be actively engaged in raising crops and livestock in order to get commodity program payments. Even though both the House and Senate had voted to tighten up loopholes that send federal dollars to nonfarmers, a last-minute deal between conference committee negotiators limited Vilsack's power to restrict payments.

"Secretary Vilsack would make some minor changes based on the new law," Grassley said.

USDA is already taking applications for disaster payments to livestock farmers hit by drought and snowstorms. The signup for commodity programs isn' expected for several months. 

But a first step, a chance to reallocate a farm's historical crop base, could take place after the midsummer deadline for farmers to certify their acres at Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices, according to economists who specialize in the farm bill and FSA staffers, although USDA hasn't informed FSA offices yet.

Both new programs, Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, will pay on part of your base acres, not what you plant.

Today the American Farm Bureau Federation posted online videos that summarize the new farm bill programs, which include information about your base-acre choices and a link to a Mississippi State University spreadsheet for comparing your old and new bases, determined by the program crops you grew from 2009 through 2012. 

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