USDA is working as fast as it can to write the regulations needed to fully implement the provisions of the Agriculture Act of 2014, but the team charged with carrying out the task is also trying to make sure “they get it right.”
“The secretary (of agriculture Tom Vilsack) charged me and our team with getting the implementation done as quickly as we could because he knew that farmers, ranchers and landowners needed certainty,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden, who heads USDA’s farm bill implementation task force.
“But he also said to us ‘get it right,’” she said. “Make sure that it’s done fairly. Make sure you listen to people. Make sure most importantly that it works for farmers and for ranchers. A lot of good things on paper don’t make a lot of sense when they get on the ground, and we are trying very hard to make sure that they do.”
Speaking at the 79th annual meeting of the Delta Council in Cleveland, Miss., Harden was interrupted several times with applause, particularly when she talked about how important it was for officials to work together in Washington.
“I am so proud that we still find a way in agriculture to work together to get results for the people and the things we care so deeply about,” said Harden, who has worked for members of Congress, the American Soybean Association, as CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts and at USDA during her career.
She also thanked Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., for his work on the 2014 farm bill and other legislation that has been important to Mississippi through the years. Cochran, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is involved in “the fight of his life” in the Republican Primary that is being decided Tuesday (June 3).
The first step in the implementation process has been disaster assistance for livestock producers “who have suffered so greatly and waited for so long for help.
“We are quickly moving to other things,” she said. “One of the shining new examples in the farm bill is in conservation, one of the things that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program or RCPP, which was just this week announced by Secretary Vilsack.”
Harden said RCPP, one of many acronyms in the new farm bill, is an expanded approach to putting conservation efforts on the land that will bring in new partners and leverage federal dollars with those from the private sector.
“NGOs (non-governmental organizations), private companies, local communities can come together to help us meet our critical conservation needs,” she said. “It streamlines four programs and brings them together in a more effective way. I think it is government at its best.”
The program will encourage other entities to leverage funds. “It give us the opportunity – if we do this right – to double federal investment in conservation over the life of the farm bill,” she noted.
Prior to her visit to the Delta Council annual meeting, Harden toured MP Farms in Tunica County in north Mississippi to see how farmers are using conservation programs to reduce their need for irrigation water and to improve the quality of water leaving their farms.
In an interview, she said the RCPP program would be a “perfect fit” for conservation techniques such as the tailwater recovery system being used by Patrick and Emily Johnson on their MP Farms and for other measures such as new irrigation management equipment that were on display during the second stop on her tour.
Most farmers and ranchers are aware that the new farm bill incorporates a number of changes, including new programs such as Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC), which comprise a new safety for producers of covered crops (corn, rice, soybeans and wheat.
Harden said USDA also hopes to implement the new Stacked Income Protection Plan or STAX program for cotton soon. “We hope to roll out the STAX program to as many counties as possible for the 2015 growing season, she said.