In an address that was broadcast to USDA employees across the country, Veneman announced the formation of a Farm Bill Working Group, consisting of USDA’s Chief Economist, Budget Director and Sub-cabinet officials that will be instrumental in ensuring appropriate planning, coordination and implementation.

“USDA employees have been working for many months in anticipation of the new farm bill,” the secretary said. “Our farm bill implementation team will include key career and sub-cabinet officials with all mission areas working together to ensure an efficient and timely process.”

Veneman noted that the farm bill contains new programs that are widespread and impact many sectors including farm services, natural resources, conservation, rural development, nutrition, food safety, research, pests and diseases, as well as international trade. The measure establishes new authorities and additional rules, regulations and procedures.

“The President signed the farm bill almost immediately upon receiving it from the Congress so we here at USDA could begin with the important task of implementation,” Veneman said. “Now the hard work begins and while it will be a difficult task, our goal is to cut red tape so we can get the job done.”

Secretary Veneman assured farmers that the USDA team is working hard to implement the new programs and outlined several measures already underway, including: the creation of a farm bill website (http://www.usda.gov/farmbill); implementing eGovernment, which will soon allow producers to complete and submit some forms on-line; developing and sending to county offices new software to aid in updating producer information; meeting with representatives of farm and commodity organizations; and developing informational materials about new programs.

Veneman said the new farm bill:

Provides certainty and a strong safety net for farmers over the next six years;

Provides record-level support for conservation programs to preserve wetlands and improve soil and water quality on working farms;

Demonstrates compassion through new support for food stamp and nutrition programs;

Helps expand trade for U.S. food and agriculture products overseas;

Contains an energy title to help examine new uses for agriculture as an energy source;

Invests more in research, value-added programs, animal and plant disease protections, food safety and rural development.

“While it’s not a perfect bill, the new measure provides certainty, a strong safety net for farmers and complies with our international trade obligations,” said Veneman. “It also provides investments in important areas such as conservation, trade, nutrition, research, rural development and energy.”

On other farm bill issues, the Secretary noted that USDA has been administering the last year of the 1996 FAIR Act while the new farm bill was being developed, which has provided nearly $4 billion in direct payments to producers this year. The new law provides some additional direct payments for 2002, and these will be made in the fall using updated acreage bases. The new law also provides for a first installment of 2003 direct payments in December 2002. The first advance counter-cyclical payments for 2002 will be made in October with a second advance in February 2003. The final payment will be made at the end of each marketing year for each commodity, once the final season average price is known.

The marketing loan program continues to operate largely as before, but with readjusted loan rates for most crops. The new loan rates are applicable immediately to the 2002 harvested crops, beginning with wheat now being harvested.

Additional information is being provided immediately upon development on the USDA website http://www.usda.gov/ which also has links to other USDA agencies involved with farm bill implementation.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com