Farm Bill is making progress in Congress

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The Farm Bill is finally making some progress in Congress. The bill, formally known as the Agriculture Act of 2014, would give farmers a level of certainty about government programs for the next few years. The previous law has been temporarily extended several times over the last three years with no guarantees about what programs would continue into the future. The US House and Senate arrived at a compromise last week, which was approved by the House on Wednesday and is expected to be approved by the Senate sometime this week. If signed by President Obama the Act would then become Law.
The biggest cause of the delay in passage of the bill had been the level of benefits in the nutrition title, mainly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The Senate voted to cut projected increases in payments over the next 10 years by $4 billion while the U.S. House wanted cuts of $40 billion. The level in the compromise bill is set at $8 billion. Total spending if the bill becomes law would be $956 billion over the next 10 years with $756 billion of that being spent on nutrition programs.
Dr. Will Snell Extension, professor of agriculture economics at UK, provided the following highlights of the bill that will affect agriculture programs over the period from 2014 to 2018:
• Eliminates direct payments.
• Replaces the current (countercyclical) price and revenue support (ACRE) programs with new programs called the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) programs.
• Requires farmers to make a one-time-choice of EITHER the PLC or ARC programs for individual program crops.
• Allows producers to update base acres and yields.
• Establishes fixed/higher price protection levels (now called reference prices vs target prices) under the PLC program – corn $3.70/bushel, wheat $5.50/bushel, and soybeans $8.40/bushel.
• Allows those who select the PLC program the option of purchasing additional subsidized insurance protection called Supplemental Coverage Option insurance.
• For producers selecting the ARC option, actual revenues will be compared to a rolling five-year average of either farm or county benchmark revenues (option selected by producer with high and low revenue years excluded).
• Annual payment limits capped at $125,000 per person or $250,000 per couple.
• Authorizes colleges, universities, and state departments of agriculture to develop pilot research projects for industrial hemp in states that have passed legislation supporting hemp production. KY is one of nine states, which have approved such legislation, with around a dozen more states with pending similar legislation.
• Establishes a new dairy policy with an insurance product protecting dairy profit margins (based on the difference of milk prices and feed costs).
• Condenses the number of conservation programs from 23 to 13.
• Reduces the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) maximum enrollment from 27.5 million acres in 2014 to 24 million acres in 2018.
• Reauthorizes a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
* Provides additional assistance for livestock disaster and specialty crop grants.
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The major impact of the bill on local farmers will be the replacement of direct payments for crops, whether grown or not with insurance programs that are partially subsidized by the government covering yields and revenue. If farmers don’t grow a crop or don’t purchase insurance they will no longer get payments from USDA, with the exception of land contracted to the Conservation Reserve Program.
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Last week I forgot to congratulate the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association for winning the People’s Choice award for the best tasting rib eye steak at the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Annual Convention in Lexington. The Marion County “Grill Masters” team of Mike Spalding, Gary Ford and Terry “Tudor” Mattingly competed with teams from other county Cattlemen’s Associations from Kentucky in a two part contest. They were judged on visual appeal of the steak where they could dress up the steaks with garnishes and decorations. Looking at the picture of these three characters, or knowing them, you can tell they are not “artists” and they failed this part miserably, but in what really matters, the taste of the steak, they won the contest hands down. Marion County residents have always known that when they get a steak sandwich from the Cattlemen it doesn’t look like much in its foil wrapper, but they have always known it will taste great! Now they know that it really is the best tasting steak in Kentucky!
Also at the convention, Marion County’s own Steve Downs took over the reins of the association from last year’s President Don Reynolds from Hart County.
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The South East Kentucky Bee School will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, at McCreary Central High School in Stearns. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the program runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be multiple sessions attendees can choose from during the day depending on their interest and experience, including a series of sessions for beginning beekeepers. Registration is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Call for more information.
There will be a beekeepers meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the Marion County Extension Office. Anyone with bees or interested in starting is welcome to attend the meetings. There is no charge to attend.
The County Agriculture Program Council will meet Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Marion County Extension Office. This council reviews our programming efforts and  suggests new programs or changes to existing programs. If you have an interest in joining the council to have an influence on our programs in the topics of farming, horticulture, or natural resources you are welcome to become a member of the council. If you plan to attend please call the office at 270-692-2421.
Marion County Cattlemen’s Association will hold its next dinner and meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Floral Hall.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.