Implementation of the new farm bill was the focus of a two-hour hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday (May 7).

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified that in the 90 days since passage of the legislation, “I’m confident we’ve made progress in every title. We focused initially on putting the disaster assistance programs in place. Over 33,000 applications have been received and $16 million has already been distributed to producers who suffered disasters after Oct. 1, 2011. We anticipate and expect that those disaster assistance payments will continue for the next several months, for sure.”

The USDA, he said, has just set up the conservation easement program established as part of the reforms.

“One of the great things about getting the farm bill done is that we were able to resume our trade promotion programs. We’re on track for another record year for agricultural trade. It will be the fifth record in the last six years.”

The nutrition title “is a strong one. We’re excited about the pilot employment and training opportunities for people (on food stamps) who are looking for work. … Those will start this fall.

“In the credit area, we’ve reduced the interest rate on the joint farmer ownership loan, cutting it in half. That will make it more feasible.”

Educational materials for the ARC (Ag Revenue Coverage) and PLC (Price Loss Coverage) programs will soon be sent out, “so producers will have a number of months to evaluate the appropriateness of either for their operation.”

Further, the Supplemental Crop Insurance option and STAX program “should be operational by the end of this year. The dairy program will be set up and functional by September.”