-column by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsak
This week, President Obama released USDA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, which supports our ongoing work to create jobs and opportunity in rural America.
The budget builds on the new opportunities available to us through the recently-passed 2014 Farm Bill to achieve reform and results for the American taxpayer; foster opportunity for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America; and support innovation through strategic, future-focused investments.
My team at USDA has been hard at work identifying everything that will be required—regulations, guidance and other activities—to develop a plan to implement the new Farm Bill.
Farmers, ranchers, foresters, researchers, and families and communities across America have waited a long time for the surety that this legislation brings, and we know that they deserve and expect an efficient, timely and responsible implementation process.
Obviously, certain provisions of this legislation are more complex than others and require more careful examination before we make final decisions, but we are committed to minimizing disruptions to stakeholders as implementation moves forward.
Earlier this week, I met with stakeholders here in Washington, DC to lay out our short term implementation goals. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are the highlights:
- Create Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) pilots for producers of upland cotton for crop year 2015.
- Re-establish the Dairy Forward Pricing Program, a program for forward pricing contracts for milk handlers.
- Establish criteria for Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, including base reallocation and yield updates.
- Publish guidelines to update common program provisions, including payment limits, acreage reporting, signature authority and adjusted gross income.
- Award $6 million in education and training funding by early summer to help producers understand the new safety net programs and make the best choices for their operation.
- Make available disaster assistance relief for losses dating back to 2011.
- Allocate funds in the near future for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program to build on record U.S. agricultural exports that support nearly one million American jobs.
- Institute by the end of the year Farm Bill provisions related to beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and veterans, including making credit more easily available for new farmers and improving and upgrading the microloan program.
- Begin to set aside funds in eligible programs for strategic economic and community development projects.
- Begin to take applications under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agriculture Management Assistance Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and other programs that will help boost record conservation practices already underway in rural America.
- Establish the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which will allow USDA to leverage a $400 million investment in agricultural research.
- Make funds available through the Repowering Assistance Program, Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Rural Energy for America Program and the Biorefinery Assistance Program.
- Continue to collect sufficient data to expand and improve price elections for organic crops.
- Make funds available in the near future for the Business and Industry Loan Program set-aside for locally- or regionally- produced foods, and extend the deadline to apply for funds currently available through its Value-Added Producer Grants.
My staff will be following up with a series of meetings focused on specific topics related to implementation. You can find more information about our Farm Bill implementation plan and what it means for your operation at www.usda.gov/farmbill.