Take a look at the calendar.
Exactly 158 days have passed since President Obama signed the farm bill on February 7, 2014.
Exactly 49 days remain until you turn the calendar to September 1. It is on that date that farmers should be able to start signing up for Margin Protection Plan (MPP-Dairy) insurance at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA). And yet, not one rule has been officially made known to American dairy farmers or staffers at local FSAs. Quite frankly, that is inexcusable even with some solid industry-led educational efforts.
A rather emphatic Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) implored USDA officials to get the rules published and shared with dairy producers about the Margin Protection Plan during a House Ag Committee meeting on July 10. Click to watch the six-minute video.
"My concern is with the implementation of the dairy program," said Representative Peterson when discussing MPP-Dairy. "I had a discussion with the (USDA) Secretary last week. I am concerned that this program is not going to get rolled out quickly enough, and we are going to have a problem with people understanding this.
"Talking to dairy farmers in my area, especially the smaller ones, they have no idea that we've done anything. They have no idea that this margin insurance exists," said the ranking member of the House Ag Committee. "The (insurance) rates are in the statute. There is no rule making needed there for different size producers. I guess the issue is the base and how to handle new producers," he said noting the base and new producer issue will not affect decision-making.
"You need to get your FSA people up to speed on this," he said with a tone in his voice that meant SOON. "In talking to them (FSA), they don't know anything about this (MPP-Dairy)."
He continued, "You need to get the word out to the dairy producers. That these are what the rates are and that you need to start thinking about this," said Peterson. "I am concerned we are going to get a poor enrollment from what I am hearing out there in the field. Especially because we have some of the best prices had (for milk)," he said. "People are going to think, ‘What the heck, I don't need any insurance because I have $20-plus milk.' But everybody knows that high prices bring low prices. It is going to be a problem.
"I think you need to get your FSA people up to speed as soon as you can. You (USDA) need to get something out to dairy farmers that this is coming. You need to do it now, instead of in September!" said Peterson.
USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse responded to Representative Peterson's statements by saying, "The committee that is working on the dairy program will be in Washington next week," he said. "We are going to finalize that program as quickly as we can. As soon as we finalize it and we have the educational tools from the universities, we will do all the outreach we possibly can in the industry."
Peterson countered with a question asking if USDA was holding up the dairy program because of producer base and new producers technical language.
"We would like to have it completed before we roll everything out," said Scuse. "We like to answer as many of the questions as we possibly can to eliminate any confusion if we rolled it out piecemeal."
"I don't agree that there's going to be confusion," rebutted Peterson. "You're holding up the whole situation over things that are, I don't think, central to making this decision. Why couldn't the FSA office or somebody send a letter to these dairy farmers saying that there's a margin insurance program coming, these are the rates that are in the statutes?" he said.
After that point, the Under Secretary gave hint that he understood the situation and stated, "Congressman, I'll take that under consideration. I will go back and look at it and see if we can do something about getting notification out to the dairy producers, just notifying them that this is coming and the time frames. I will go back and take a look at it, Congressman."
As soon as rules are published, Hoard's Dairyman will make them available to all our readers.