Vilsack focuses farm bill on problems, announces fertilizer aid | TheFencePost.com
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Vilsack focuses farm bill on problems, announces fertilizer aid

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to the American Farm Bureau Federation convention Monday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The 2023 farm bill debate should focus on problems farmers, ranchers and other rural Americans face, not on the Agriculture Department’s programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said here Monday in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention.

And the biggest problem that the farm bill should address is the needs of farmers — about 50% of them — who are still not making a profit and are dependent on off-farm income, even though net farm income in the last couple years has been perhaps the highest in the history of the country, Vilsack said.

“A lot of farmers are doing well,” Vilsack said to an audience that included some of the country’s biggest and wealthiest farmers, most of whom vote Republican. But, Vilsack added, federal policy should be focused on making farms of all sizes profitable and the rural economy thrive.
Vilsack said that the situation reminds him of a statement made by President Abraham Lincoln after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, saying that “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Farming should not be just profitable, but profitable and resilient for all, Vilsack said.
“It should not be the size of operation that dictates whether you can stay in business,” Vilsack said. Of the operators of smaller farmers that do not make a profit, he said, “We want to keep them on the land.”
Perhaps in a reflection of the difficulties that USDA has had in administering some pandemic-related relief products, Vilsack also said it is important to give USDA flexibility in administering programs so that they can be used to address problems that vary from one part of the country to another.
Vilsack said that the climate-smart agricultural programs that the Biden administration has introduced can help farmers achieve more streams of income and be less dependent on the sale of commodities.
He said he wants to put farmers in a position to continue farming, and to provide the same opportunity to the next generation.
NEW USDA PROGRAMS
Vilsack also announced several USDA programs, most prominently one to expand fertilizer production.
In an attempt to make more fertilizer available or the 2023-24 crop year USDA will soon begin accepting public comments on environmental and related aspects of 21 potentially viable projects to increase fertilizer production totalling up to $88 million, Vilsack said. These applicants have requested grant funding through the first round of the department’s newly established Fertilizer Production Expansion Program.
USDA is considering fertilizer production projects in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, he said.
USDA is also encouraging farmers interested in obtaining coverage under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters, to contact their Farm Service Agency local offices. Underserved producers on file for 2022 will automatically receive basic coverage and FSA plans to target outreach to previous producers of NAP-eligible crops to ensure these producers are aware of their options. Vilsack announced $12 million in Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program grants to entities in Ohio, Michigan and on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota to expand independent meat and poultry processing capacity.
Finally, Vilsack announced two new programs to fill gaps in 2020/2021 Natural Disaster Assistance (Emergency Relief Program (ERP) Phase 2) and 2020 Pandemic Assistance (Pandemic Assistance Revenue Program (PARP).  
    
To be eligible for PARP, an agricultural producer must have been in the business of farming during at least part of the 2020 calendar year and had a 15% or greater decrease in allowable gross revenue for the 2020 calendar year, as compared to a baseline year.
    
The ERP Phase 2 and PARP application period is open from January 23 through June 2.  These programs are revenue-based, not land-based, which should make it easier for beginning and underserved farmers to qualify for aid.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to the American Farm Bureau Federation convention Monday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
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Off-farm income courses for farm households, 2021, showing average off-farm income of U.S. farm operator households to be $104,460. Courtesy USDA Economic Research Service
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