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February 18, 2014

Local farmers urged to try bill's programs

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Area farmers and others affected by its various provisions, were urged by a federal legislator at a Monday media conference to sign-up for the programs included in the recently passed farm bill.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, spoke about the issues Monday at the Unadilla farm of Mike and Tammy Barnes. He thanked the host farmers for their hard work, and expressed his appreciation for the team of industry officials who advised him on the issues and helped influence the outcome, most of whom spoke at the event as well.

On most of the provisions in the legislation that sets agricultural policy, including dairy price reform and crop insurance, farmers and others have to request the assistance from the appropriate agency, he said.

But doing so will ensure that “we get at least our share,” he said.

The farm bill is generally renewed every five years but the legislation, last approved in 2008, was delayed as lawmakers worked out differences in nutritional program benefits, and other issues.

Unlike the previous legislation that provided dairy farmers assistance based solely on the price of milk, the new margin protection program insures participants earn a margin of at least $4 per hundred pounds. This is the difference between the price they are paid for milk and the cost of grain, the most expensive input. When the price of grain spiked, farmers might have lost money on production under the previous system.

 Under the method that is expected to start by Sept. 1, “we can insure viability,” Gibson said. 

Farmers need to sign-up through the U.S.D.A. Farm Service Agency. They can be assured a $4 margin at no cost for the first 4 million pounds, equal to about the production of 200 cows. They can get additional margin insurance, up to $8, on a sliding scale.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County educator Mariane Kiraly said that there will be “a learning curve” with the new programs, but Cooperative Extension and other partners, will help area farmers.

 The dairy provisions are voluntary, but they will be good for five years. A farmer can choose how much production to cover, from 25- to 90-percent, and how big a margin, from $4 to $8 a hundredweight. A payment is made when the margin falls below the level for a two month period, based on the initial production and coverage level chosen.

“We at Cornell Cooperative Extension are here to help them remain profitable in this new realm. We’re here to help you make the adjustment,” said Kiraly.

Other provisions in the legislation call for such things as more comprehensive crop insurance, Gibson said. The previous system only paid for a fraction of the loss. The new plan directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to come up with programs to help farmers “lower their risk” and leveling the playing field for specialty crop farmers in the state. In addition, he talked about such provisions as research needed to increase yields, promoting occupational safety, conservation reforms that benefit local land trusts, benefiting beginning farmers, promoting renewable energy, farm-to-school programs, broadband and research into Lyme Disease.

Delaware County Farm Bureau President Duane Martin was among the speakers. He said the margin insurance gives farmers a chance to lock in prices to at least meet the cost of production. He liked the provision that called for the USDA to buy surplus dairy products and donate them to food banks and pantries when the situation warrants it. Local fruit and vegetable growers will have better insurance options because Gibson went the extra mile to find ways to have a better program, he said. He also praised the benefits of improving broadband for businesses that rely on the Internet.

New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health Deputy Director Julie Sorensen said the farm bill makes considerable strides towards insuring farmer’s economic success. The mission of the organization, that is part of the Bassett Healthcare Network, is to enhance agricultural and rural health by preventing and treating occupational injury and illness.”

Through such efforts as improving dairy policy, and crop insurance, “organizations like ours will undoubtedly be more successful in asking farmers to divert their attention from economic stressors to other vital issues such as health and safety,” she said.

Gibson has “demonstrated a keen awareness of the direct tie between a farm’s economic health and a farmer’s physical health and well-being,” she said.