Farm programs scrutinyRepublicans and Democrats put Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on the defensive last week on farm bill implementation as key farm programs and services came under scrutiny. Top House Ag Democrat Collin Peterson wanted to know if USDA had decided not to do a general sign-up this year for the highly-popular Conservation Reserve Program.
“I’m not sure that that decision has been final,” Vilsack responed. “As you well know the amount of acreage available in CRP has been somewhat contained and restricted by congressional action, so we’re in the process of taking a look at precisely where we are relative to continuous signup, which obviously continues. What I do know about CRP is that because of limitations in the future we’re going to have to be quite targeted and quite focused.”
But that didn’t do it for Peterson. He argued the continuous sign-up is not enough and that there’s still reserve acreage in regular CRP.
“Well I would encourage you to take a look at it,” Peterson said. “I think there is from what I can tell a million and a half to 2 million acres left in there, even with the 24 million cap, so I’m concerned given what’s going on with commodity prices and so forth, I think things are going to change. We’re having people tear up their CRP because of the high rents and so forth, but I think that may change.”
Republicans also put Vilsack on the hot seat on Administration plans to close more Farm Service Agency county offices.
“We are not anticipating expecting the closure of any offices in 2014, so the current state and system will stay in place. However FSA’s budget in terms of salaries and expenses has resulted in a 20 percent reduction in workforce over the last several years. Technology is going to change the way in which work is being done at FSA offices. We know that we have roughly 130 to 140 offices that either have no fulltime employee working at them or have a single fulltime employee working at them.”
Vilsack suggested this year would be a learning year to figure out where the most work is in the FSA system and create tiers of central, branch and satellite offices with declining numbers of personnel. But with technology advances Vilsack hopes in a year or two many producers won’t even need to visit an FSA office, freeing up personnel to focus more on counseling producers on all USDA income opportunities.
Source: NAFB News Service