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Only five percent of farmers have signed up for new farm bill safety net programs

WASHINGTON – Of the 1.7 million producers eligible to sign up for several new farm bill safety net programs, only 80,000 have actually done so, according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The news came last week in a conference call with reporters to update them on the one-year anniversary of the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Obviously it’s a small percentage,” conceded Vilsack, “but it never hurts to ask people to start thinking about it now, in early February, when they still have six or seven weeks left to be able to make this important decision.”

Farmers have until February 27th to retool acreage and yield paperwork with the Farm Service Agency, thanks to the new farm bill, which is an opportunity that hasn’t come along since the late 1980s. By March 31st, farmers will also need to determine which of two new farm safety net programs they want to take part in for the next five years. There are two choices; either the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program or the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program.

The number of producers who have made a choice between the programs is just under five percent of farmers eligible to do so. If the other 95 percent of American producers do not decide by the March 31st deadline, they will default into the Price Loss Coverage program, which depends on statutory target prices to trigger payments.

For Midwestern producers, the ARC program will generally be a better fit. ARC at the county level uses an Olympic average of the last five years to determine whether a payment is appropriate, given production levels in a particular area.

“These decisions will last the life of the five-year farm bill,” says Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini, “so once you’re in a program, it’s the program you’ll remain in through 2018, which is the end of this particular farm bill.”

The low number of producers already signed up isn’t for a lack of trying. Dolcini says FSA has held about 4,000 farm bill meetings around the country since last summer, and estimates 2,500 of them concerned ARC and PLC specifically. He believes that’s something setting the most recent farm bill apart from its predecessors.

“The level of public outreach and the amount of educational tools out there available to farmers has really been unprecedented,” Dolcini says.

You can hear more about ARC and PLC signups by clicking the audio player above this story.