Catfish producers will soon be able to participate in the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Aimed at providing U.S. farmers stronger footing in increasingly hostile markets, the program can provide training, a farm-specific business consultant and $12,000 per eligible participant.

However, the time to sign up is short. To beat the deadline, farmers must sign up at their local FSA office by Thursday (Sept. 23).

On Monday, Delta Farm Press spoke with Carole Engle, chair/director of the Aquaculture/Fisheries Center at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB) about the program. Among Engle’s comments:

Please explain what the TAA program is…

“The TAA program is designed to provide help to farmers who have been harmed by competition from imports. Catfish petitioned to be included and was approved.

“It’s very important that participating catfish farmers must sign up with their local FSA office by Sept. 23 (Thursday).

“A blanket approval has been set up for farmers in many states including Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina. That means as long as farmers can show they were producing catfish in 2009 and one year of the prior three years they’ll automatically qualify and be eligible.

“But they still must go by their FSA office by Thursday. They need to get signed up.

On the next step…

Following sign-up “farmers must attend training. There are trainings being organized in other states but Arkansas is offering the first at UAPB on Oct. 7 – the same day as our annual catfish field day.

“In the morning, we’ll hold our regular field day with research and Extension demonstrations. The first TAA training – the ‘initial training’ -- will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. that the farmers must go through.

“After that, they must have 12 hours of intensive training. We’ll offer the first three hour training module that same day, Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Farmers will have their mileage reimbursed by FSA for attending that initial training session.

“As for the other nine training hours they need, we’ll offer those as part of the annual convention of Catfish Farmers of Arkansas on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29 next year. That will take place in Pine Bluff at the Waterfront Center and Regional Park.

“If farmers will come to the Oct. 7 field day, the trainings that afternoon and those on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, they’ll qualify for a $4,000 payment to compensate them for their time.

“Farmers from any state can attend any training they wish, in any state, or they can take the trainings online. We’re offering these face-to-face trainings to make the training as convenient as possible. Farmers from any state are welcome to attend the Arkansas trainings.

“After (training), the farmer will be assigned a business consultant who will work with them one-on-one to help develop a comprehensive business plan.”

TAA program setup

Is the business consultant affiliated with the FSA?

“No. It will be someone selected by the TAA program. They’ll send a consultant that’s been identified and trained specifically to do this. There’s no cost to the farmer.

“At the end of that, the farmer will receive another payment of $8,000.”

So, a farmer can potentially get $12,000?

“Yes. But there’s a wrinkle it’s important for farmers to know.

“If their farm is a corporation or an LLC, only one representative can receive that payment. However, if it’s a partnership or a sole proprietor, the partner or spouse is also eligible. So a farmer and spouse – even if the spouse isn’t really involved in the farm business – can also apply. They both need to sign up before Sept. 23 and then they’ll each be eligible for the payments.”

Both will need to do the training?

“Yes. They need to sign up before Sept. 23 and go through the entire training program.”

Is the TAA program under the auspices of the USDA?

“It’s complicated and that’s led to a lot of confusion.

“The program is under the auspices of the FAS (Foreign Agriculture Service). They’re working with a bunch of different groups. The farmer eligibility is determined by FSA, which will also distribute the payments.

“Meanwhile, the training is being doing by the Extension Service. That’s where we come in.

“There’s also a whole TAA group that’s been hired by FAS to provide leadership for the whole program. They’ve contracted a group out of the University of Minnesota to try and coordinate this.

“It’s even more complex because the Economic Research Service (ERS) is the entity that made the decision as to which petitions to approve. But we’re past that step.

“The money being used to make these payments is coming from duties charged on all sorts of different imports to the United States. That includes not just food products but all sorts of imports.”

The general idea for this is to remedy trade imbalance?

“This program is only for industries being hurt by imports. The idea is to take the duties charged on imported products and try to help people. In this case, it’s catfish farmers that are being hurt.

“This way, they’ll be trained in business planning and put them on better footing to adjust somehow. Farmers will have help putting together a plan to address any needed changes. Maybe they’ll consider a different crop or a split-pond system or more aeration. Whatever it is, they’ll be able to analyze all that with the help of the business consultant and figure out if it makes sense to take those steps.

“And they’re compensated for the time spent in training and with the consultant.”

Who should farmers contact for more information?

“I’m the contact person for Arkansas farmers. They can call (870) 575-8523or e-mail cengle@uaex.edu.”

Mississippi farmers contact: Jimmy Avery at javery@drec.msstate.edu

Alabama farmers contact: Terry Hanson at trh008@auburn.edu

Texas farmers contact: Michael Masser at m-masser@tamu.edu