NORTH LAWRENCE, Ohio — Stability in dairy pricing, deciphering the system of federal programs for farmers, and what could be ahead in the next farm bill is on the minds of many producers.
That’s what could be summarized from a roundtable conversation held Oct. 19 with Michael Scuse, USDA’s deputy under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, which includes the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency.
The roundtable included grain producers, dairy and beef producers and specialty farmers such as a beefalo producer.
Place in farming
Scuse said each producer has a place in the farming system — no matter how small, how large or what specialty a farm may have, there is a place in the market for it.
Scuse said that’s what makes agriculture so important to the economy because it is so diverse, and added he agriculture industry is actually helping pull up the rest of the economy.
Recovery in agriculture has been dramatic in the past year, the USDA official said.
“Agriculture has been making money. It’s the funniest thing. Farmers spend money when they make money, so it is going back into helping the economy,” Scuse said.
Scuse responded to questions about the 2012 farm bill, telling the group to expect cuts, because the money is just not there like it was in 2008.
He did say, though, that the agriculture has already stepped up to the plate as a whole and cut costs. For example, a quality assurance agreement signed with crop insurance companies trimmed $6 billion off the cost for the federal government.
“We are the only agency to offer that type of cuts,” Scuse said.
Scuse said of the $6 billion, $4 billion went toward the deficit and $2 billion went toward program savings.
One big change Scuse expects to see in the 2012 farm bill is in the dairy industry.
“It’s a great chance to get some meaningful changes in the dairy industry through the 2012 farm bill,” Scuse said.
He said he will be shocked if no changes are made in the dairy sector after the dairy price collapse.
Mark Thomas, a dairy producer, questioned Scuse about the potential for a program that would take MILC funds and put them into creating an insurance program for dairies.
Scuse told Thomas that a new program is to be rolled out in 2011 similar to what he had suggested.
“It will allow subsidies to be used to make it more affordable for dairy farmers,” Scuse said. “Producers need to take a look at it and see if it works for them.”
Mark Spillman, a grain producer, questioned Scuse about making FSA programming more easily understandable and easier to navigate.
Spillman said the ACRE program is difficult to understand and he wishes there was an easier way. He also raised a question about the issuing of the direct payments.
“We wish it could go into risk management and be used for crop insurance programs,” Spillman said.
He said some of the landlords he rents from go online and view the payments, and then expect that for rent.
“Some see it as a handout,” Spillman said.
Scuse said he understands and will take the issue back to Washington to see what can be done.
Disconnection. Spillman also brought up concerns about the disconnect between the FSA and crop insurance.
“Why can’t the whole thing be simplified?” said Spillman.
He said he keeps one filing cabinet for crop insurance and one for the FSA office because the two are so different in their needs from the farmer.
Scuse said he agrees and there is no excuse for the lack of technology because one office can not talk to the other. It causes a lot of duplicate paperwork, but it will probably be a few years before the problem can be solved due to funding.
“We are headed down that path,” Scuse told the group. “Right now, there are four ways to identify a piece of land; that’s just crazy.”
He said one thing he is encouraging is the use of common terminology, for example in identifying a piece of land. There shouldn’t be several ways to describe it. It should be identified in one way with both entities.
“We simply need to simplify the process for producers,” said Scuse.
Scuse was traveling across the country to talk to producers to see what is on their minds and how federal programs can be improved to benefit them. He said different producers have different views of programs and without talking to them, the government can not make the decisions needed to help them.
Scuse also visited Harrison Central High School in Harrison County in the afternoon Oct. 18 talking to the FFA Chapter there about the future of agriculture. He also held a roundtable at the Buckeye Career Center in New Philadelphia that evening with farmers from across Tuscarawas County and the surrounding area.
After the roundtable in Stark County, Scuse was boarding a plane and leaving for a tour of the southern United States to talk with farmers there.