U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Friday that USDA will give farmers an extra month to allocate base acres or update yield history on their farms. The original deadline was Feb. 27 and the new deadline is March 31.
Vilsack made the announcement on the second day of the 2015 Commodity Classic, held in Phoenix before a record crowd of 8,000 farmers representing major commodity organizations.
"About a half million producers have already made their decisions but we want to be sure not to jam up the system in the end," Vilsack told the audience. "We encourage folks to get working with FSA officials and get this done."
Vilsack said the reason for the extended deadline was primarily because of challenges with southern operations.
"Based on our most recent best guess we have roughly 60% of farm operations that have made the (base acre) election," he said.
Vilsack was asked if that March 31 deadline for farmers to elect between the farm bill's new safety net programs – Price Loss Coverage, Agricultural Risk Coverage County, or Agricultural Risk Coverage Individual Program – would be delayed as well. While he did not rule it out, an extension was not part of the plan at this time.
"That would be like telling your kids they've got another week to do their homework," he joked.
At a press conference Vilsack said about 30% of farmers had already made their ARC/PLC elections.
"We still have a ways to go, but we've seen remarkable uptick in just the past few weeks."
If farmers simply choose not to make any declaration regarding USDA programs, USDA will end up making the decision for them. But Vilsack hopes that does not happen.
"We've had 5,000 meetings between our teams, land grant universities and producers, to educate producers on this decision process," he said. "We've sent out 3 million postcards to remind people of these upcoming dates. We really want people to participate in the decisions on their farms."
Trade a high priority >>
Vilsack noted that all past living Secretaries of Agriculture have penned a letter to Congress in support of Trade Promotion Authority, a rule that would give President Obama the authority to present potential trade deals to congress for an up or down vote without debate. He urged farmers to send a message to congress in support of TPA.
"Since NAFTA was signed we've entered into other agreements and ag trade has increased 130% as a result of those trade deals," he said. "We set another farm export record last year and expect another record this year.
"TPA is the same authority every president has had to finalize trade agreements, since FDR," he said. "It illustrates that there can be agreement between Democrats and Republicans and has traditionally been bipartisan."
TPA, he added, would be particularly important as the United States negotiates the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which is still ongoing.
"We're negotiating with Asian countries to lower tariffs, improve standards and create stability based on science and rules," he said. "Those countries represent 40% of all global domestic product. We're asking them to open their markets to our goods.
"Today 520 million middle class consumers live in Asia; in the next 15 years that number will grow to 1.3 billion," Vilsack added. "That's eight times the population of the United States and we have an opportunity now to set the rules for trade with those middle class consumers for years to come."