Zach Ducheneaux, administrator for USDA's Farm Service Agency, said Tuesday that the disparity between disaster aid for livestock and crops indicates livestock producers more ad-hoc support following a disaster.
Congress last year approved $10 billion for agricultural disaster aid from 2020 and 2021, of which $750 million was specifically set aside for livestock aid. Ducheneaux, speaking at the inaugural Midwest Council on Agriculture meeting in Detroit Lakes, Minn., said the funding disparity doesn't reflect the balance of cash receipts that livestock provides.
"$750 million isn't enough for the need, clearly," said Ducheneaux, who was raised as a rancher in a South Dakota tribe. "It does highlight the need for livestock producers to be more vocal about their losses ... We have got to bring more parity to that."
The Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP) has spent about $600 million under phase one of the program, which focuses on paying producers for forage losses to help offset higher feed costs. USDA is looking at how to distribute the remaining $150 million still available. Ducheneaux indicated USDA could look at supplementing the remaining money with funds from the Commodity Credit Corp.
Overall, the Emergency Relief Program has paid out about $6.48 billion to 263,708 producers of commodity crops and specialty crops nationally.
Discussing the $19.5 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act for USDA conservation programs, Ducheneaux emphasized there is nothing mandatory about the push for climate-smart agriculture in those programs.
"It's all voluntary and it's all incentive-based," he said, adding "If you are emitting carbon and it's not going into your soil, that's inhibiting your productivity."
Ducheneaux also said the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) should have more flexibility built into it when it comes to situations such as grazing livestock. Right now, unless there is a D2 severe drought, landowner payments are discounted 25% for non-emergency having or grazing. Ducheneaux said there should be options for CRP owners to work with young producers who might need some grazing acres, for instance.
"There isn't an acre of CRP that should be used somehow," he said.
FSA STAFFING, SOFTWARE
Asked about staffing at local offices, Ducheneaux said part of the challenge now is starting pay. "We're no longer competitive," he said.
FSA's computer systems also are becoming antiquated with Ducheneaux saying some systems still function on COBOL, an older software language. Right now, though, there is a hesitancy to elevate some of FSA's staffing and computer problems.
"We need the help of the population we serve to advocate for us," Ducheneaux said.
Also see, "Former House Ag Chair Builds New Midwest Ag Council" https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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