RRFN Panel

USDA panel discussion at Big Iron included, from left to right: Don Wick, Red River Farm Network; Martin Barbre, Risk Management Agency; Kathy Sayers, Farm Service Administration; and Brad Thykeson, director of N.D. Farm Service Agency. Photo by Dale Hildebrant

WEST FARGO, N.D. – This year is turning out to be a year of challenges for producers. Between the trade situation, delayed or prevented planting, and excessive rainfall in many of the major growing areas, the list of challenges has continued to grow.

Those attending the opening day of the Big Iron Farm Show were given the chance to hear how the two big USDA players in these areas – the Farm Service Administration (FSA), who is handling the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), and the Risk Management Agency (RMA), which administers Federal Crop Insurance, have been gearing up to handle the heavy workload.

Representing the RMA at the Sept. 10 panel discussion was Martin Barbre, RMA administrator, and Kathy Sayers, the chief of staff for FSA administrator Richard Fordyce, outlined action FSA is taking, signing up for the various farm programs, as well as the MFP. Both Barbre and Sayers stressed that many of the USDA agencies are headed by farmers, which has proven to be an advantage for farmers and ranchers. Barbre dubbed these various farmer agency heads as “ag-publicans.”

“It has been very helpful and beneficial to have true farmers in our leadership positions,” Sayers said. “They bring that true, on-the-farm working knowledge, and it has been very helpful knowing how the department will affect the farmers. It has been a very good partnership.”

A few figures shared by the two agencies indicate the enormity of the task USDA is faced with in the coming months. According to Barbre, federal crop insurance claims have been coming in at a rate of about half a billion dollars a week over the last couple weeks and he expects that volume will grow as time goes on. Thus far, over $2.5 billion has been paid out, mostly going toward prevented planting due to excess moisture.

On the FSA side, Sayers said $3 billion in MFP payments were sent out during the first three weeks of the initial payment period on a nationwide basis, which accounted for 50 percent of the anticipated payment. At the peak of activity they were accepting 10,000 applications per hour for MFP 2.0.

“It amazes me how quickly these payments have gone out – they have been processing them very quickly,” Sayers said.

In looking at data from North Dakota, state FSA executive director Brad Thykeson said staff shortages in the state have put an emphasis right now on getting the MFP payments out. Meanwhile, paperwork for both the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) have been put on the back burner because immediate payment for those programs isn’t required.

Staff shortage is a general problem for FSA despite hiring 1,300 additional staff since about this time last year. That extra hiring has resulted in a net gain of only 200 workers due to attrition and retirements, Sayers noted, and additional temporary help might need to be hired during the upcoming critical months.

Not all of the news has centered on getting checks out to farmers. Recently, RMA revised the grazing or harvesting dates for prevented plant cover crops from Nov. 1 and moved that date up to Sept. 1. This will allow higher quality forage to be harvested from prevented plant cover crops that were seeded after June 20.

It was also noted that the various agencies within USDA are continuing to working to standardize and share information sent in by farmers, but it may take some time yet before this is fully implemented. Thykeson compared it to the hydraulic coupler situation when every major equipment line had their own design for hydraulic couplers.

“How many years did it take us to get ISO couplers?” he asked. “It took us years and years to get there and the same can be said for these ag programs – we will get there – we just need some time.”

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