Tom Vilsack was summoned to the Oval Office last week and was asked by President Obama what USDA could do to help producers suffering from the drought of 2012. Vilsack told the president "our tools are limited since disaster provisions of the farm bill expired December 31." The president again said, "what can you do?"
"We decided we could help and focused on livestock producers," said Vilsack. "On pasture and range land affected by drought we are allowing emergency haying and grazing – in those areas designated D2, D3 and D4 on our drought monitor."
Vilsack also noted "we streamlined the process for states to apply for disaster designation. As a result 1,300 counties immediately qualified.
"This week we also announced expansion of emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres." No application is necessary. "Further, we reduced the payment penalty from 25% to 10% and announced that not only can hay be made but it can be sold."
In the Wetland Reserve Program, Vilsack said USDA will expedite the application process for emergency haying and grazing.
Crop insurance premium notices are normally sent out around August 15 and producers have 45 days to pay. Vilsack announced that the grace period will be extended to November 1 to allow more time to process claims.
The secretary also used his discretionary authority to ease restrictions in the Environmental Quality Improvement Program. "Due to the drought producers will be able to delay practices, cancel contracts and if a practice didn't work due to the drought, we will work with them to see if it can be made to work.
"Some funding left over in the EQIP will be used to assist producers in D4 counties with watering or whatever we can do to help.
Passage of farm bill critical
"But our capabilities are limited because no disaster programs are in place," stressed Vilsack. "We need Congress to pass a farm bill. Some have said there is not enough time to get it passed in the House. There is nothing more important to rural America than this farm bill."
Vilsack chastised members of Congress for planning to take the upcoming five week recess. "There is no excuse not to get this done. They could take a day or two and get it done."
He noted that if nothing is done prior to September 30 all farm programs expire unless extended but he warned that delaying until past the election would be a disaster. "Then it gets into tax policy, deficit reduction discussions, etc. They will look for where the money is and if that happens, USDA budget could be cut even more. We've already done our part. We shouldn't have to do everyone else's as well.
"Speaker (John) Boehner has his finger on the pause button. I have mine on the panic button."