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USDA targets priorities in $956B Farm Bill

Published: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:58 a.m. CDT

After about three years of debates and negotiations, the 2014 Farm Bill is now a law, but what does that mean for Iowans working in agriculture?

President Barack Obama signed the bill in early February at Michigan State University — the country’s first land grant college — about two weeks after it passed through the House and a week after it passed through the Senate.

The $956 billion Farm Bill is complex, but the United States Department of Agriculture has several priority points which USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted at the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas.

Continue programs

The bill is designed to help farms of all sizes improve. For the large-scale operations, the Farm Bill continues programs to sustain profitability.

Mid-sized operations are encouraged and partially financially supported to seek out new ways to create income. The hope is that the increase in profits will help expand mid-sized farms.

“So much of it is still unknown,” said Travis Crop Insurance Agent Adam Travis. “We have received some bulletins from our providers, so we know the topics that might effect us, but a lot of it is still going through the rules process.”

The USDA’s third focal point with continuing to fund programs with the 2014 Farm Bill is supporting small-sized ranchers and farms, especially women, minority and veterans who want to farm.

Complex issues

Because of the length, wide variety of topics and the billions of dollars rolled into the 2014 Farm Bill, the USDA is developing educational programs and reading material to help answer questions on specific topics.

One of those areas is the promotion of U.S. biofuel exports to other countries, with trade mission focusing on China.

Another complex but important subject for area farmers are new crop insurance programs, which should be finalized this fall so farmers can reallocate their base if needed.

“From what we can see, there are no changes for 2014 on the crop insurance side,” Travis said. “The biggest change coming with the insurance is the USDA can now take away a government subsidies if the farm is not in compliance with the farm’s conservation plan.”

In the past, if a conservation plan had a no-till practice included to prevent soil erosion, a farmer would receive a direct compensation payment. The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated the direct payments, but farmers will still be compensated for properly following their conservation plans.

“Crop insurance has always been heavily subsidized by the government,” Travis said. “That subsidy amount is not going to change.”

Finally, the bill includes funds to further research and new agricultural innovation. This part of the 2014 Farm Bill looks to the future of all the bill’s programs, hoping to find ways to improve and advance biofuel markets or combat global climate change.

“We are trying to be forward thinking about what would be the best route for our customers to take,” Travis said. “We are farmers to and we like to be as helpful as possible.”

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