Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Along with the day-to-day and seasonal decisions local agricultural producers always face, a series of deadlines are fast approaching for both long-standing and new programs for the producers, and the local Farm Service Agency is saying they need to make some choices. “In the next three months, we’ve got a full boat,” said Mike Zook, executive director of the Hill County Farm Service Agency Office. One standard program already is running very full, he said the Hill County office has been working fulltime since Jan. 1 processing signups for the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program, but signups are only 8 percent complete and the deadline is June 1. “We’re urging farmers to come in and get this completed as soon as possible before they go out into the field,” Zook said. Programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FSA and Natural Resources Conservation Service, including a series of new programs which have created new opportunities and new questions, mean farmers and ranchers need to decide what actions to take and what programs to participate in soon. One of those involves the deadlines for insuring crops, most of which are due by March 16. That is key to a new program included in the last Farm Bill passed by Congress, the permanent fund for disaster assistance programs. Montana’s U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota were key in getting the permanent fund established, Zook said. Previously, funding for all agricultural disaster assistance had to be approved on a case-by-case basis. To be eligible for the permanent programs, however, ag producers must have insurance on all of their crops. Deadlines for most crop insurance is March 16. Zook said the insurance required depends on for which disaster program the producer wants to be eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the producer must insure their grazing land, or have it covered with the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, known as NAP, through the FSA by March 16. Zook said the NAP coverage costs $250 per crop, with a maximum of $750 per county. To be eligible for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program, known as SURE, the producer must insure all farming crops. Zook said producers need to decide what to cover to know for what they would be eligible for example, a producer who has some grazing land but has few or no cattle might not worry about eligibility for the forage disaster program. Producers also may request a waiver for crops that are 5 percent or less of their total revenue, he said. Zook said that, especially with the dry years early in this decade, farmers and ranchers need to look at these options. “We would urge anyone to take a real hard look at protecting themselves from the risk of drought,” he said. Another opportunity is giving up some of the guaranteed coverage offered by the government in exchange for a potentially better coverage based on average production of the producer’s land. Zook said the Average Crop Revenue Election, known by the acronym ACRE, could give farmers some better coverage in bad years. “It basically is a supercharged counter-cyclical program,” he said. In ACRE, the payment for years with a reduction in the producer’s income is based on an actual production record for five years, which could give better coverage than the DCP payments. In order to qualify for ACRE, producers have to agree to forgo 20 percent of their direct payment under the DCP program in a four-year commitment, Zook said. To help producers get a handle on some of the new provisions of the Farm Bi l l , the Montana Stat e University Extension Service is holding a series of workshops. The workshops, which will focus heavily on SURE and ACRE, could help farmers decide what programs would benefit them the most, Zook said. Zook said the Hill County office also still has low-interest loans available for county producers, which could give them some additional operating income. The deadline to apply for those loans is March 31. Talana Klungland, a soil conservationist with the NRCS, said deadlines Also are very near for several of her service’s programs. March 13 is the deadline for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. Those programs provide cost-sharing for conservation programs. Klungland said the programs help farmers and ranchers receive financial help for taking good care of their land, which is one of their goals already. “Most of the people are looking to do that,” she said. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to producers who take action to reduce threats to the soil, water and air quality on their land as well as other threats. Its intent is to help farmers and ranchers promote environmental quality and agricultural production as compatible goals. WRP provides technical and financial assistance to producers who retire eligible land from active agricultural production to restore, protect and enhance wetlands. WHIP provides technical and financial assistance to producers who develop and improve high-quality habitat for wildlife populations. Another program, available in Blaine and Phillips counties, is the Grassland Reserve Program. Klungland said the application period for that program is March 17 to April 17. GRP provides assistance for producers who work protect, restore and enhance grassland, emphasizing working grazing operations and enhancement of plant and animal life on the property.