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Up to 8.5 percent reduction in direct payments proposed by USDA for required cuts

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Congress recently approved, and the president has signed, a continuing resolution that provided funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies through the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

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By Wes Nelson

USDA Farm Service Agency

Congress recently approved, and the president has signed, a continuing resolution that provided funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies through the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The continuing resolution applies a reduction of approximately 2.5 percent for a number of items within USDA’s budget. It also maintains the across-the-board budget reductions required under sequestration.

On March 19, USDA notified Congress of its intention to capture the required sequester savings by reducing payments made through the direct payment program account by up to 8.5 percent.

The USDA is committed to carrying out these budget reductions in a manner that provides the least disruption to its customers. As an initial step, USDA’s Farm Service Agency temporarily suspended disbursement of payments for many of its programs on March 1.

A reduction only to direct payments will minimize disruption to farmers who have already received, and will be seeking, disaster assistance under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program and the Non-insured Disaster Assistance Program, by allowing producers who suffered losses to be fully paid.

In addition, the proposal will avoid having to require about 350,000 producers to refund 5.1 percent of the payments they have already received, while also preventing taxpayers and the USDA from incurring a significant administrative burden that would be required to recoup these payments.

There is a 30-day congressional notification period that must pass before USDA can move forward with its sequestration proposal. Therefore, payments under the following programs will continue to be deferred for the next 30 days: 2011 Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program; Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for both 2012 and 2013 crop years; and the Milk Income Loss Contract program.

Following the 30-day notification period, the Farm Service Agency intends to resume making full payments for the suspended programs.

Sign up for EQIP by April 19

Initially authorized under the 1996 farm bill, and then reauthorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program provides technical assistance, cost-share payments and incentive payments to crop, livestock and other agricultural producers who make environmental and conservation improvements to their farming operation.

Applications for the program are accepted continuously at local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, applications received by April 19 will be considered for funding shortly thereafter. Other sign-up periods may be held if not all funds are obligated from the applications received during this signup period.

Producers can receive funding to help with the cost of installing a variety of long-term practices that reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, conserve energy and reduce water usage. Some common examples include reduced tillage practices, water and sediment control structures, grassed waterways, rotational grazing systems and conversions to low-pressure irrigation systems.

Producers who adopt new farming practices that provide conservation and environmental benefits may also qualify for special incentive payments. For example, EQIP can provide up to three years of annual incentive payments for farmers that adopt no-till or ridge-till farming practices, or who implement an approved nutrient and pest management plan.

Other special incentives are being offered for an on-farm energy initiative to help farmers conserve energy, and a seasonal high-tunnel initiative that can assist with the installation of high tunnels designed to extend the growing season in cold weather climates, increase productivity, and conserve water and energy.

Livestock producers continue to be the prime focus group of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program since Congress requires that at least 60 percent of funds be devoted to livestock producers.  

Livestock producers may be eligible for funds to assist with the cost of installing the needed animal waste control structures to reduce or eliminate feedlot runoff. But in addition, they may qualify for up to three years of incentive payments to properly manage and utilize their animal waste products.

Funds are also available to cover a portion of the cost of establishing a composting system for dead animals, or to properly close animal waste impound structures that are no longer being used.

For more information, producers should stop in or call their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

Farm Rescue can assist farm families in crisis

When it comes to a heart-warming story in farm country, nothing tops those instances when family members, neighbors or even complete strangers gather together for a day to volunteer their time and machinery to help another farm family, that due to injury or medical condition, is unable to plant or harvest a crop.

While the volunteers must feel a deep sense of gratitude by performing such good deeds, one can only imagine how much it must mean to those farm families that are the recipients of such random acts of kindness and generosity.

It’s in that same spirit of goodwill for fellow farmers in need that a nonprofit organization called Farm Rescue was formed back in 2006. Headquartered in Jamestown, N.D., the organization has now assisted more than 200 farm families that have experienced a major illness, injury or natural disaster.

Farm Rescue is a mobile farming operation with a dedicated group of volunteers operating modern farm equipment. Traveling throughout a five-state area that includes Minnesota, Farm Rescue offers an opportunity for farmers or farm families experiencing an unexpected crisis to maintain viable farming operations.

Operations are funded solely by donations, business sponsorships and grants, with experienced volunteers comprising the organization’s field workforce.

If you or someone you know has experienced a major injury or illness and will need assistance planting this year’s crop, contact Farm Rescue by calling 701-252-2017. You can also learn more about the organization by visiting their website at www.farmrescue.org.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.

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