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2014 farm bill will reform both farm, food assistance programs

By Wes Nelson

Farm Service Agency

WILLMAR — When the House and Senate negotiators released the long-awaited farm bill agreement, officially titled the Agricultural Act of 2014, it contained 959 pages. But even that number will pale in comparison to the pages of regulations and procedural manuals that will need to be written and rewritten by the various agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as they implement the programs and reforms of the new farm bill.

So the laborious and time-consuming task now begins for those agencies, with the writers of the regulations having to make frequent visits with the congressional architects of the farm bill, assuring that the regulations being written conform with the intention of the new legislation.

Until those regulations are written, information regarding the farm bill’s programs and reforms will remain somewhat general in nature. According to information provided by the House Agriculture Committee, some highlights of the new farm bill include the following:

*  According to estimates provided by the House Agriculture Committee, the farm bill will save taxpayers $23 billion in mandatory federal spending over a 10-year period. However, the Congressional Budget Office is projecting a rather smaller savings of $16.6 billion over the next decade.

*  Includes the most significant reduction of farm program spending in history.

*  Repeals or consolidates nearly 100 programs administered by the USDA, including the “guaranteed” direct payments that totaled approximately $5 billion per year under the 2008 farm bill.

*  Payment limits are reduced, with eligibility rules tightened and streamlined to make farm programs more accountable.

*  Crop insurance provisions are expanded and improved, providing farmers with the opportunity to select and invest in risk management decisions that will provide better crop and financial protection.

*  Reauthorizes and improves livestock disaster assistance programs.

*  Consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13.

*  Provides one year of full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program, which provides funding for vital services in communities having federal lands.

In recent years, up to 75 percent of the funding provided by the farm bill has been devoted to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. The new farm bill will make the first reforms to SNAP since the welfare reforms of 1996.

Some of the highlights of those reforms include:

*  An expected $8 billion reduction in SNAP spending over a 10-year period. That would represent about a 1 percent reduction in SNAP’s total funding.

*  Ensures that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students and the deceased do not receive benefits.

*  Ensures that SNAP recipients are not receiving benefits in multiple states.

*  Prohibits USDA from engaging in SNAP recruitment activities and advertising on TV, radio, billboards and through foreign governments.

*  Increases assistance for food banks.

For more information regarding the farm bill, including a link to the entire text of the Agricultural Act of 2014, visit the House Agriculture Committee’s website at

FSA committee election results announced Local Farm Service Agency offices recently tabulated the ballots that were returned for the 2013 county committee election. All election winners will begin serving three-year terms on Feb. 18.

In Chippewa County, Donna Halvorson of Granite Falls was elected to her first term.

In Kandiyohi County, John Cunningham of Atwater was elected to his first term.

In Meeker County, Tom Walsh of Litchfield was elected to his first term.

In Pope County, Jane Reents of Villard was re-elected for a third term.

In Renville County, Orlynn Hegna of Granite Falls was re-elected for a second term.

In Swift County, Dennis Holt of Kerkhoven was re-elected for a third term.

In Yellow Medicine County, David Lupke of Belview was elected to his first term.

Nationwide, there are more than 7,800 farmers serving as county committee members. Committees typically consist of three to five members who are elected by local agricultural producers.

Expired CRP acres may need a conservation plan Some farmers are returning to crop production acres that were previously enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. But before planting a crop in 2014, farmland owners and farm operators are reminded of their responsibilities to maintain eligibility for USDA payments.

To comply with USDA’s conservation compliance provisions, any fields previously enrolled in CRP that are classified as highly erodible will need an approved conservation plan or system in place prior to planting.

Farmland owners and farm operators should contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to verify if the land previously enrolled in CRP is classified as highly erodible. If so, then a review of any required conservation systems is highly recommended.

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