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Area farmers gather to discuss changes to Farm Bill

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dozens of area farmers crammed into the Clay City United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall to soak in some "pretty intense" information regarding changes in their cropping program.

This was the third such meeting to be conducted recently. The previous two took place at the Vigo County Fairgrounds and the Brazil Armory respectively. These meetings were set up to discuss changes in the Farm Bill, which were made by State Senators, Congressmen and various appointees from the public spector.

Nancy Ireland, the County Executive Director of the Clay County Farm Service Agency, gave an 80 slide power-point presentation at the meeting, which lasted just shy of two hours. The two primary topics of discussion were a new farming program and changes in payment limitation rules.

The most lengthly topic of discussion was whether farmers should stick with a current Direct and County Cyclical Program (DCP) or switch to the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE). The primary difference is that DCP offers a guaranteed 100 percent return subsidized payment based on cropping history, while ACRE offers an 80 percent guaranteed return. Ireland told the audience that information on ACRE was still coming in and that it may confuse people because "it is a bit of an unknown while DCP has been around awhile and seems like a sure thing."

One potential advantage Ireland said ACRE may have is that it would offer a larger payment if crop prices go down, which she said is a very real possibility due to the state of the economy.

ACRE payments are made per farm, and farmers who own multiple farms do not have to use it on all their owned properties. Crop insurance is not necessary to sign up for the service.

To gain ACRE payments, farm owners must meet two Triggers. The State Trigger is met if the State ACRE Guarantee is greater than the Actual State Revenue. A Farm Trigger must also be met. This is done if the Farm ACRE Benchmark Revenue is greater than Actual Farm Revenue.

To calculate if they would be able to meet these triggers, Ireland encouraged patrons to utilize various ACRE calculators online by entering "ACRE calculator" into a Google search. She said Google was the best way to go because, "Due to many disclaimers, (she did) not feel comfortable suggesting which website to use for ACRE calculator."

The sign-up deadline for both ACRE and DCP is due June 1. Both programs lock in patrons through 2012 and require users to sign up annually. DCP users can switch their services to ACRE, but those who sign up for ACRE must stay with the service through 2012.

The second matter of importance Ireland brought up was changes in farming Payment and Eligibility Limits, particularly how they effect corporate entities.

Ireland stated "each entity and individual who received a direct or indirect payment (as a member of an entity or embedded entity) shall have a $40,000 limit." This means that if any entity brings in more than $40,000, the extra amount goes into the federal budget.

The new structure also placed stricter rules on entities to prove that each working member who owned a share was actually providing the service they were being paid for.

While it was more restrictive in a corporate sense, the changes offered individual land owners the potential to double their earnings. New stipulations indicated that husband and wife land owners could now earn $40,000 a piece. Under the old rule structure, they were limited to $40,000 total.

During the presentation, Ireland made several points several times and there still seemed to be an air of confusion in the room. She tried to put the confusion at ease by implying that at the current stage it was nearly impossible to have a full grasp on the data being presented.

"I have seen this (information) 10-12 times and I'm still confused," Ireland said. "I would encourage you all to stay tuned for further developments."

For more information, call the Clay County Farm Service Agency at 446-8986, or visit them online at fsa.usda.gov.

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