Val Dolcini is a busy guy these days.
On Tuesday, I'm getting into my car about 6:45 Central time to head to the DTN mothership and I get a call from the FSA Farm Service Agency press office in D.C. Dolcini, the FSA administrator, had about a 10-minute window to talk to me about farm-program sign up.
It was early, I was in my car, etc., so it was a little inconvenient -- I grumbled -- but the interview worked out. Except Dolcini wasn't in Washington. He was in some town in Montana, about 20 miles from the Canadian border. It was 5:45 Mountain time and Dolcini was about to head to a breakfast meeting with some farmers and FSA staff in Montana to talk to them about farm programs.
These federal employees, I tell ya...
Dolcini, who took over as head of FSA nationally last September, had been in Montana the last few days doing some outreach meetings with wheat farmers and visiting with FSA county offices.
I wanted to find out a little more about sign up for commodity programs after Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had talked earlier this month at the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting about enrollment. At that time, Vilsack said 142,500 landowners had started the process of reallocating base acres and updating yields. Only about 34,200 or so farmers had begun the process of making their selection between Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage for their crops.
Vilsack expressed some concern that there could be a late rush to enroll in the programs. He encouraged producers who knew their selection to make an appointment with the local FSA office.
Dolcini seemed to be a little more comfortable with the enrollment thus far, but he noted FSA and others continue to do outreach. He was more pleased with the base-acre reallocation figures. A number of years have gone by since landowners have had a chance to update their yields. That has created a lot of interest there. While some farmers updated their base in 2002, others have not had a chance to do so since 1986.
It's not unusual to see enrollment for a brand-new program where it is at this point, Dolcini said. He will be more fixated in a few more weeks when we are a little bit closer to the first deadline.
The deadline for reallocating base acres and updating yield data is February 27. The deadline for choosing commodity programs for crops is March 31. Dolcini said early signup varies from region to region right now.
FSA has had more than 2,500 meetings on ARC-PLC, but Dolcini also credited land-grant universities for also holding thousands of other meetings around the country to help with enrollment as well.
"I think everybody knows this is a new and complex farm bill with new and complex programs that require an added amount of public outreach and public educational efforts," Dolcini said, adding that commodity and farm groups have been doing significant outreach as well.
To avoid a late rush to the FSA offices, Dolcini encouraged producers who know their farm-program strategy to make an appointment. While the decision is considered a one-time, irrevocable one, Dolcini said farmers can change their minds on their program enrollment before the March 31 deadline.
"If you have made your decision on which program to sign up for, then by all means go into the county office and elect one of the programs," Dolcini said.
Some farmers are struggling with the idea of trying to figure out the risk management strategy when one program, ARC-County, could pay more upfront, while PLC could protect more long-term against a potential price collapse.
"There is certainly some educated guessing that goes into this process here, as does with a lot of different programs, I suppose," he said. "People are talking to me anyway just about the fact that the programs are new and complicated and it's taking a little more time to understand the intricacies. We're not getting into some of the deeper conversations about price."
A lot of people have said the longer you hold out, the better you are going to be able to gauge the potential market-year average price that USDA will use for potential PLC payments on the 2014-15 crop, as well as where the MYA price will land to affect possible ARC-County price change.
The chart below shows the Market Year Average price, as well as the DTN National Corn Index prices for those market years in early Feb. (Feb.1-4, depending on the way the week landed) and early March, also March 1-4, depending on how the week landed.
Final MYA Feb. 1 differential March 1 differential
2009-10 $3.55 $3.22 -$0.33 $3.43 -$0.12
2010-11 $5.18 $6.24 +$1.06 $6.88 +$1.70
2011-12 $6.22 $6.29 +$0.07 $6.40 +$0.18
2012-13 $6.89 $7.36 +$0.47 $7.15 +$0.26
2013-14 $4.46 $4.16 -$0.30 $4.35 -$0.11
If you are trying to gauge a pattern off those last five years of price movements, it's hard to come up with one. However, the trend in the current 2014-15 corn market is down. The DTN National Corn Index has moved from $3.80 a bushel on Dec. 26 down to $3.53 a bushel on Tuesday.
Dolcini encouraged those producers still trying to get a little more educated on ARC and PLC options to attend an FSA workshop or a comparable one through university extension or a commodity group. Also, take the time to go through the web decision tools that are out there.
"If you have not made that decision, we have got a lot of good tools to help make that decision a little easier," he said.
A link to FSA's page on ARC-PLC and the university decision tools: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/…
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