A New Partnership Prepares Farmers for Complex Decisions

An important new partnership is preparing agricultural producers for decisions that need to be made soon so farmers can participate in safety-net programs that were created by the 2014 Farm Bill. Congress gave USDA and the Cooperative Extension System a mandate to educate America’s farmers and ranchers to help them prepare for managing their annual risks. USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the Cooperative Extension System teamed up to host joint meetings all over rural America, offering details on the new programs contained in the farm bill. There are more than 2,900 Extension offices throughout the United States, perfect settings at which educational forums could prepare producers for the decisions ahead of them.

“Farm bill outreach and education has been a rigorous exercise for all of us,” said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini as he praised employees and educators on the recent rollout of the Dairy Margin Protection Program, the first of the risk management programs. “In addition to enrolling more than half of the dairy operations around the country, we learned the value of partnership between the nation’s Cooperative Extension System and employees at the Farm Service Agency.” Continue reading

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Microloan Puts Rancher on Profitable Path


Sam T. Begay used a microloan to improve his herd and have a successful operation.

By Harriet Man, Senior Loan Officer, Arizona Farm Service Agency

Sam T. Begay was looking for ways to improve his cattle herd production. He needed to change his breeding program by adding Angus bulls, which ultimately would improve his marketability.

“It seemed like an impossible goal because it’s hard to obtain credit from local lenders to purchase cattle,” said Begay, who operates his ranch on a Navajo reservation in Pine Springs.

After learning about the Farm Service Agency microloan from an outreach meeting, Begay saw a way to turn impossible into possible.

FSA developed the microloan program to serve the unique financial operating needs of beginning, niche, and the smallest of family farm operations. These smaller farms and ranches often face limited financing options.  The microloan offers access to up to $50,000 with a simplified application process and less stringent requirements associated with larger loans. Continue reading

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Pitching Aquaculture and Microloans Is a Marine Veteran’s New Mission

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Michael McCarthy used an FSA Microloan to help expand his clam business.

Raising clams has always been a part of Michael McCarthy’s life — until Sept. 11, 2001.

“That was my motivation,” said McCarthy, who was working with the New York/New Jersey Harbor relay program, purging and harvesting clams, when terrorists crashed two airplanes into the World Trade Center. “You could look across the water and see the Towers. We were shut down for a couple of weeks and that’s when I decided to join the Marines.”

Wanting to do his part, Michael enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. “I knew I wasn’t going to do it for the rest of my life, but I felt like I did something to help a little bit.”

That’s the same commitment McCarthy made following an honorable discharge from service. He returned to New Jersey and reconnected with the clam industry he has loved since he was 5 years old. But this time it was a lot different.  As a returning veteran, working in the industry became more than just a job during high school or a means to earn money during college summer break. This time, he was going to do it on his own. Continue reading

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Deep in the Heart of Texas

Becky Markley (left) of Markley farms in Seguin, Texas and FSA Administrator Val Dolcini compare notes on the best strawberry varieties grown in Texas compared to some varieties grown in Dolcini’ s home state of California.

Becky Markley (left) of Markley farms in Seguin, Texas and FSA Administrator Val Dolcini compare notes on the best strawberry varieties grown in Texas compared to some varieties grown in Dolcini’ s home state of California.

By Brenda Carlson, Public Affairs Specialist, FSA

While in Texas for a national Farm Bill training for 300 Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees, FSA Administrator Val Dolcini ventured into the countryside to visit with farmers and ranchers in the Lone Star State.

Heading west of San Antonio on I-10, the prominence of the cattle industry in the area is clearly evident, but just off of the interstate in Guadalupe County, Dolcini arrives at a nine acre produce oasis surrounded by cattle on pasture.

Topping the hill leading into the farm, rows of strawberries and vegetables peek over the horizon. Markley Farms is the pride of Becky and Bryan Markley who, between two locations totaling 20 acres, grow strawberries, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, leafy greens — and the list goes on and on.

Dolcini, a California native and no stranger to produce farms, navigated the maze of produce crops as Becky Markley explained, “We grow things that are unique, like purple carrots — items not found in a grocery store. We like to introduce people to new foods and we love that they feel like our farm is their farm.” Continue reading

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Commodity Credit Corporation Releases Lending Rates for January 2015

The USDA Commodity Credit Corporation, which helps stabilize, support and protect farm income and prices, released interest rates for January 2015. The borrowing rate-based charge is 0.125, which is unchanged from December 2014, while the 1996 and subsequent crop year commodity and marketing assistance loans dispersed during December is 1.125, unchanged from last month. Interest rates for Farm Storage Facility Loans and discount rates for the Tobacco Transition Payment Program also are available. Read more.


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FSA Announces New Yield Data for Safety Net Calculations

New information is available to producers to update program payment yields to help them better select protection offered by the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. “The Farm Bill provided landowners with the option of updating their farm program payment yields. This is the first time that many producers have been able to update yields since 1986,” said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini. “We’ve worked with the Risk Management Agency to make available certified yield data that producers can use to better calculate how the new safety net programs can offer the best protection against market swings.” ARC and PLC are cornerstones of the commodity farm safety, offering farmers protection when market forces cause substantial drops in crop prices and revenues. Producers can check with their local FSA county office to see if data is available for them. This data belongs to the producer and only the producer associated with the crop insurance records will be provided this service. Updating yield history or reallocating base acres can occur until Feb. 27, 2015. Learn more.

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FSA Brings Christmas Back to Missouri Families

Wayne Harmon, owner of Starr Pines Farm, sells Christmas trees on his 200 acre farm near Boonville, Mo.  Harmon has used FSA’s disaster assistance program to replant trees after several disasters, including the 2012 drought.

Wayne Harmon, owner of Starr Pines Farm, sells Christmas trees on his 200 acre farm near Boonville, Mo. Harmon has used FSA’s disaster assistance program to replant trees after several disasters, including the 2012 drought.

By Dana Rogge, Public Affairs and Outreach Specialist, Missouri FSA

For many families, the holiday season kicks off with picking out the perfect tree.  Everyone bundles up in their winter coats, hats and gloves and takes a hay ride through rows of green beauties in search of the perfect evergreen that will serve as the centerpiece of all family holiday festivities. For many mid-Missouri families, that masterful search happens just outside of Boonville, Mo., at Starr Pines Farm.

Owners Wayne and Ann Harmon have been raising Christmas trees since 1986 and in 1990, they began selling trees to the public, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, on their 200-acre farm.

Most of the trees grown at Starr Pines farm are Scotch Pines, their biggest seller, and Norway Spruce. Wayne estimates he has between 32,000-35,000 trees on the farm currently, but has had as many as 65,000. Their crop is half of what it used to be because of a major hail storm in the early 2000s that destroyed nearly 50,000 trees. Continue reading

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Revisiting Boulder County Agriculture Following the Worst Flood in Colorado’s Recorded History

By Brenda Carlson, Public Affairs Specialist, FSA

Although it’s been over one year, Sept. 12, 2013, is a date forever etched in the minds of Boulder County residents as the beginning of an epic flood event that dumped a record nine inches of rain in one day and more than 17 inches for a five day total —  an amount comparable to Boulder County’s average annual rainfall totals.  The flood waters ultimately ravaged 17 counties. To say the impact on farmers and ranchers in these counties was significant is an understatement.

“Due to the time of year when the floods hit, most of the crops were out but damage to area farmland, nurseries and pastures was significant,” said Alvin Mascarenas, program technician for Boulder County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).  “Massive amounts of debris and sedimentation covered open fields and flood waters blew out the dams on numerous ponds that provide water for livestock.” Continue reading

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USDA Announces Early Release of Commodity Tables for USDA’s Agricultural Projections to 2024

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released selected tables from its upcoming USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024 report. USDA will post online tables containing long-term supply, use, and price projections to 2024 for major crops and livestock products, and will include supporting U.S. and international macroeconomic assumptions. The complete USDA Agricultural Projections to 2024 report will be released on Feb. 11, 2015. The complete report includes a full discussion of the commodity supply and use projections, as well as projections for global commodity trade, U.S. trade value, and farm income. The early-release tables are posted on the Office of the Chief Economist’s (OCE) website at www.usda.gov/oce.

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USDA Improves Forest Health by Harvesting Biomass for Energy

More than 200,000 tons of biomass have been removed from federal lands through the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) to use for renewable energy and help reduce the risk of forest fires. BCAP provides incentives for the removal of dead or diseased trees from National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. This summer, 19 energy facilities in 10 states participated in the program. “This initiative helps to retrieve forest residues that are a fire risk, but otherwise are costly to remove,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “In just three months, working with private partners across the country, the program helped to reduced fire, disease and insect threats while providing more biomass feedstock for advanced energy facilities.” Eligible farmers, ranchers or foresters participating in BCAP received a payment to partially offset the cost of harvesting and delivering forest or agricultural residues to a qualified energy facility. Up to $12.5 million is available each year for biomass removal. Learn more.

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