FSA Employee in Arkansas “Irons Out” Wrinkles in Major Farm Program… Literally

Clay County Arkansas FSA Employee Rhonda Turner is shown here ironing ARC/PLC paperwork

Clay County Arkansas FSA Employee Rhonda Turner is shown here ironing ARC/PLC paperwork

Clay County Employees Go the Extra Mile to Ensure Successful Farm Program Delivery

USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees and agricultural producers alike passed a milestone recently: the deadline for selecting the new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs authorized by the Agriculture Act of 2014, better known as the 2014 Farm Bill.

FSA employees nationwide made a personal commitment to ensure that their customers were fully informed and that the application process ran as smoothly as possible.

As part of the education and outreach campaign launched by FSA in September, more than 5 million educational postcards, in English and Spanish, have been sent to producers nationwide, and more than 6,000 events with more than 440,000 attendees, including training sessions and speaking engagements, have been conducted to educate producers on making the best, long-term decision on how ARC or PLC coverage will benefit their respective agriculture operations – decisions that impact their business for the life of the Farm Bill.

However, anyone involved in the agriculture industry knows that it’s impossible to plan for everything, especially when Mother Nature gets involved.

Perseverance is a word synonymous with farming and persevere is exactly what FSA staff did when Mother Nature interfered with the ARC/PLC enrollment in Arkansas’ Clay County.

A Saturday in March was the test. Mary Small, program technician in Piggott, Ark., went to the office to get things organized and ready for the upcoming week. She was greeted as she entered the office with water covering the floor. Melting snow on the roof had caused a substantial leak above a desk where ARC/PLC paperwork was filed. She found the papers floating in water.

Clay County is located in the Arkansas Delta and according to FSA staff, the ARC/PLC workload was heavy and they could not afford even a short duration of “downtime.” Adapt and overcome was their only option.

So, Small, along with Marty Conley, county executive director, worked to clean up the mess and attempted to salvage ARC/PLC forms, applications and 25 pages of signed documents for six farmers.

The papers were laid out to dry and on Sunday, Rhonda Turner came to the office, picked up the wrinkled documents, and began to iron them. Her goal was to salvage the documents so they could again be placed in the files, saving the producers from a second trip to the office to re-submit and resign their documents.

“I’m a seamstress and I knew you could iron paper patterns, so I figured I could iron these papers too,” said Turner. “The damaged documents had original signatures and the short time it took me to iron them saved our producers from having to make another trip to our office.”

When word of Clay County FSA’s exceptional customer service efforts reached the National Office, FSA Administrator Val Dolcini was pleased, but not surprised.

“As I’ve traveled to various states, I’ve heard many stories of how staff has continuously gone the extra mile to make sure farmers and ranchers in their local areas are aware of the new farm bill programs and sign-up deadlines and I greatly appreciate everyone’s hard work, long hours and dedication to our customers, the industry and our Agency,” said Dolcini.

According to Dolcini, ironing paperwork in Arkansas is just another example of hardworking FSA staff members doing what it takes to get the job done to serve our nation’s farmers and ranchers

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Record Harvests Bring Out the Best in FSA’s Grain Storage Oversight

Temporary grain storage overseen by FSA Commodity Operations.

While providing grain farmers with loans and safety-net programs is an important function at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency’s role in protecting the nation’s food supply does not stop when farmers deliver their harvest to the market.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) also works with grain elevators to help ensure the proper storage of harvested crops, which – during record harvests as seen in recent years – can save millions of bushels of grain from spoiling.

Corn harvested in 2014 reached a record high of 14.21 billion bushels and soybeans a record 3.96 billion bushels, which made grain storage an important issue across the Great Plains and Corn Belt regions this winter.

As harvest was wrapping up, staff at FSA worked with grain operators in 25 states to establish emergency storage options, a similar number of states compared to 2013 when 13.9 billion bushels of corn and 3.36 billion bushels of soybeans were produced. Ground storage requests from the operators for the 2014 crop totaled 390 million bushels, a record high.

“Emergency-storage approvals allow grain storage operators to properly store corn, wheat and grain sorghum on the ground until warehouse space is made available,” said Commodity Operations Acting Deputy Administrator Sandra Wood. “By working with grain operators, we are helping to ensure as much harvested grain as possible becomes the food, fuel and animal feed that helps drive our nation’s economy and does not go to waste.”

Emergency storage, typically ground piles, helps to provide additional space after harvest when all conventional storage space is filled to capacity. The use of ground piles for grain has been an industry practice during peak harvest seasons for many years.

Warehouse operators have the same responsibilities and liabilities for the quantity and quality of grain stored in emergency storage space as they do for grain stored conventionally.

Wheat, corn and grain sorghum may be stored in ground piles, but not soybeans. Also, grain cannot be stored in emergency ground piles past March 31 as the warm, wet weather puts the grain at more risk for spoilage.

FSA’s involvement with grain storage in temporary locations helps establish quality and safety standards to help ensure the safekeeping and integrity of commodities in storage.

“We are dedicated to making sure the best storage options are available to help elevators preserve harvested grain for as long as possible,” Wood added. “Helping to protect what our farmers worked so hard to produce is an important step in keeping a safe and efficient food supply system.”

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FSA Administrator Urges ARC/PLC Decisions at Commodity Classic

Phoenix, AZ – USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini took an important message to one the largest gatherings of agricultural stakeholders in the nation, the recent 20th Annual Commodity Classic. He met with corn, soybean and wheat growers to urge members to complete their decisions on the safety-net options offered by the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program by the deadline of March 31, 2015.

ARC and PLC were created by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill to help farmers avoid financial losses caused by price or revenue declines brought on by weather or an unexpected downturn in markets. The one-time election of ARC or PLC remains in effect through the 2014 – 2018 crop years.  If an election is not made by March 31, the farm will not be eligible for 2014 crop year payments and will default to PLC through 2018.

Dolcini addressed six regional caucuses of the American Soybean Association, five regional caucuses of the National Corn Growers Association caucus, the Corn Congress, and a few smaller meetings held by the commodity groups involved with Commodity Classic.

Dolcini also reminded landowners of their rare opportunity to update farm yields and reallocate base acres. The deadline for this decision also is March 31. If not changed by the deadline, the farm’s current counter-cyclical yield and base acres will be used.

Broadcasters and print media covering the 20th annual event, which broke attendance records for the second straight year, also sought time from Dolcini to learn more about the deadlines. Dolcini stressed to listeners and readers to use these weeks to finalize conversations and decisions on the ARC or PLC choice. He said acting early will help to avoid potential waits during peak activity periods in FSA offices as the deadline draws near.


Adminstrator Dolcini interviewed at Commodity Classic: Five of 14 media interviews conducted, including Sabrina Hill, West AgNet (left); Tony St. James, All Ag Network (topright); Curt Lancaster, Texas Farm Bureau News/Radio (top center); Mindy Ward, Farm Progress/Missouri Ruralist (center); and Duane Toews, KFRM 550 AM Radio (bottom).
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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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