Deciphering the Farm Bill

Betsy Ward

Betsy Ward President/CEO USA Rice Federation

Now that the 2014 Farm Bill is finally law, it’s time to break the legislation down and explain what all the options, implications and consequences are for rice farmers. We spent the better part of the last four years working with allies in Congress to ensure the interests of rice farmers were represented, and while the bill the President signed isn’t perfect, we’re going to have to live with it, so let’s get to know it. Of course, with a 900+ page, five-year bill, I can’t cover everything in this brief column, but I can hit some highlights. And I can encourage you to attend one of the many Farm Bill Briefings the USA Rice Federation is conducting in ricegrowing areas this month and next. If you can’t attend in person, visit our website to view our presentations.

Commodity Title And Crop Insurance Beginning this year, rice farmers may enroll in either the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) or Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) programs. Both policies are available on historic base acres (not planted acres), with a one-time option to reallocate the base acres to better reflect your crop mix in recent years. Under ARC, if revenue declines below a set level, a payment is triggered, up to a maximum of 10 percent of your revenue average.

ARC can be selected on a county level or an individual farm level. ARC county and PLC are both paid on 85 percent of base acres, while ARC farm is paid on 65 percent of base acres. The rice target price for PLC is $14/cwt with a 1.15 adjustment rate for California producers. PLC is paid on payment yields established for the base acres, but producers have a one-time option to update yields to 90 percent of the 2008-2012 average yields.

Beginning in 2015, additional insurance policies will be available that we feel will be useful tools for your farm, including Area Risk Protection, a Supplemental Coverage Option (only available in conjunction with PLC), and Margin Protection policies. Deciding which product and program is best for you, including how new payment limits, adjusted gross income, and “actively engaged” policies are changing the equation requires in-depth analysis, so the time to start thinking about your options is now.

The Farm Bill made significant changes to conservation programs, combining and streamlining existing programs and creating new exciting opportunities for rice farmers. Chief among them is the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) where farmers can use partnership agreements with recognized conservation organizations, like Ducks Unlimited, to leverage federal funding on a regional, watershed or landscape scale. Ready, Set, Decide!

The USDA is moving quickly on implementation and rulemaking with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden heading an internal working group at the agency. If you attended USA Rice’s Government Affairs Conference last month, you will recall hearing from Secretary Harden who told our general session that she is bent on prioritizing the most time-sensitive details. We expect program sign-up to begin in April and run through the summer. As I write this, land grant universities and cooperative Extension personnel are working on decision aid tools to help producers, and these are topics we’ll cover thoroughly at our Farm Bill briefings. The Farm Bill introduces new and complex policies. We’re here to help you make the most informed decisions for your farm and hope to see you at one of our briefings soon.

To locate a USA Rice Farm Bill briefing near you, log on to www.usarice.com or contact Lauren Echols via email at lechols@usarice.com.