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FSA Promotes Decision-Making

USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini was in Iowa Friday to visit with farmers, state and county FSA workers, and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Conservation Reserve Program in a speech at National Pheasant Fest in Des Moines that evening.

Among his stops was the FSA office in Newton, Iowa, where he saw “a steady stream of folks,” coming in to make farm program decisions.

The deadline for landowners to reallocate base acres and update yields is just a week away — February 27. Then farm operators will have another month, until March 31, to make the so-called election between Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). 

Dolcini took a few minutes to visit about the signup with as he visited Pheasant Fest. He wouldn’t disclose exact numbers of landowners who’ve already made their choices but said FSA offices are busy.

“I haven’t looked at the numbers this morning. They’re picking up by leaps and bounds every day,” he said.

The USDA, with help from land grant universities, Cooperative Extension, Farm Bureau, and others, has held 5,000 meetings to explain the farm bill this year, Dolcini said.  

About two weeks ago, he attended one of those educational meetings in Montana.

“Some of the attendees had been to four or five meetings,” Dolcini said, which seems to confirm that the 2014 Agricultural Act signed just over a year ago has one of the most complicated commodity programs ever. 

Compared to the ARC/PLC choice, the base and yield decisions are relatively simple. In the Midwest, if FSA records show that changing your base acres to reflect recent planting history will give a farm a larger corn base, the owner probably should take that option, university economists are saying. And crop insurance records can be used for yield history, which the landowner doesn’t have to document at signup. He or she will have to be able to document yields later on.

When asked if the agency is more than halfway through recording landowner base and yield decisions, Dolcini said, “I think we are.”

John Whitaker, the FSA state executive director for Iowa, told that his state is better than halfway through the base and yield decision process. Not all farmers and landowners will update yields, he said, because in some areas, including parts of southern Iowa, recent yields aren’t higher than the older ones on record with FSA.

The agency is leaving no stone unturned in its push to get farmers and landowners in the door. On Thursday night, Texas A&M University held a Spanish language webinar on the farm bill, Dolcini said. And early this month, FSA sent out some 3 million postcards nationwide with a deadline reminder.

Dolcini wouldn’t say if USDA will extend any deadlines. If the department does, that’s likely to be announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Both Dolcini and Vilsack will be at the Commodity Classic in Phoenix next week.

Meanwhile, “we’re encouraged by the heavy volume of foot traffic around the nation and especially in the Midwest,” Dolcini said.

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