USDA Report Highlights Benefits of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today highlighted a new report showing the positive impacts of President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on American farms. Six months after the President signed the tax cuts and reforms into law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) has released a report, titled “Estimated Effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Farms and Farm Households.”  The report examines in detail how the historic tax cuts and reforms will alleviate the tax burden on American farms to help them grow and prosper.  According to the report, average tax rates are expected to decline across all farm sizes and commodity specializations and fewer farm estates will be subject to the Death Tax.

“Most family farms are run as small businesses, and they should be able to keep more of what they earn to reinvest in their operations and take care of their families,” Perdue said.  “Simplifying the tax code and easing the burden on farmers will free them up to make choices for themselves, create jobs, and boost the overall American economy.  This report just shows what we knew all along: the tax cuts and reforms will benefit farmers.”

The TCJA significantly reformed the Federal income tax system, including individual and business income tax rates, business expenses, taxable income deductions, and the alternative minimum tax. The TCJA also doubled the Federal estate tax exclusion. The USDA ERS report estimates the impact of current Federal income tax provisions on farm households by using 2016 tax-year data.

Montana Department of Agriculture Awarded USDA Farm to School Grant

Funding will help schools with procurement, distribution of local foods

Helena, Mont. – Producers and students throughout Montana have reason to celebrate, as the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) has been awarded a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enhance farm to school efforts throughout the state. MDA was awarded $99,980 and will partner with the National Center for Appropriate Technology and Montana Farm to School to increase the procurement and distribution of local food in K-12 schools in Montana.

“Farm to school initiatives continue to grow throughout Montana and this grant will build upon those efforts,” said Ben Thomas, Director of MDA. “When we can give our producers another market opportunity, while also providing our students with nutritious, local foods, everyone wins.”

The project will focus on three school districts in Montana: Browning, Fort Benton, and Malta. Each of these districts are in the early stages of implementing farm to school activities but have limited access to local foods. Sourcing and access to Montana foods is one of the key challenges to farm to school initiatives in Montana. The Montana Farm to School Leadership Team will research distribution opportunities and challenges on a statewide level while learning first-hand from the participating school districts. By coordinating with state-level farm to school partners, including supply-chain stakeholders, and bringing together local teams in each of the communities, the project will create a plan that will impact the entire state.

“By working with local-level teams in these communities, we expect to expand connectivity and distribution of local foods throughout the state, especially in north and eastern Montana,” said Aubree Roth, Montana Farm to School Coordinator, Montana Team Nutrition. “Our larger goal here is to take the lessons learned from this project, and scale it up so that we can better implement these activities on a state-wide level.”

The Montana Farm to School Leadership Team, sponsored by Montana Office of Public Instruction, works through partnerships across the state to build farm to school initiatives that help kids eat healthy, connect kids with agriculture and nutrition through education, support Montana farmers and food producers, foster economic vitality, and strengthen communities.

The Montana Department of Agriculture’s mission is to protect producers and consumers, and to enhance and develop agriculture and allied industries. For more information on the Montana Department of Agriculture, visit www.agr.mt.gov.

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USDA Resumes Continuous Conservation Reserve Program Enrollment

One-Year Extension Available to Holders of Many Expiring Contracts through Continuous Signup

As part of a 33-year effort to protect sensitive lands and improve water quality and wildlife habitat on private lands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will resume accepting applications for the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Eligible farmers, ranchers, and private landowners can sign up at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA)office between June 4 and Aug. 17, 2018.

“The Conservation Reserve Program is an important component of the suite of voluntary conservation programs USDA makes available to agricultural producers, benefiting both the land and wildlife. On the road, I often hear firsthand how popular CRP is for our recreational sector; hunters, fishermen, conservationists and bird watchers,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “CRP also is a powerful tool to encourage agricultural producers to set aside unproductive, marginal lands that should not be farmed to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife and boost soil health.”

FSA stopped accepting applications last fall for the CRP continuous signup (excluding applications for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and CRP grasslands). This pause allowed USDA to review available acres and avoid exceeding the 24 million-acre CRP cap set by the 2014 Farm Bill. New limited practice availability and short sign up period helps ensure that landowners with the most sensitive acreage will enroll in the program and avoid unintended competition with new and beginning farmers seeking leases. CRP enrollment currently is about 22.7 million acres.

2018 Signup for CRP

For this year’s signup, limited priority practices are available for continuous enrollment. They include grassed waterways, filter strips, riparian buffers, wetland restoration and others. To view a full list of practices, please visit the CRP Continuous Enrollment Period page.

FSA will use updated soil rental rates to make annual rental payments, reflecting current values. It will not offer incentive payments as part of the new signup.

USDA will not open a general signup this year, however, a one-year extension will be offered to existing CRP participants with expiring CRP contracts of 14 years or less. Producers eligible for an extension will receive a letter with more information.

CRP Grasslands

Additionally, FSA established new ranking criteria for CRP Grasslands. To guarantee all CRP grasslands offers are treated equally, applicants who previously applied will be asked to reapply using the new ranking criteria. Producers with pending applications will receive a letter providing the options.

About CRP

In return for enrolling land in CRP, USDA, through FSA on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), provides participants with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance. Landowners enter into contracts that last between 10 and 15 years. CRP pays producers who remove sensitive lands from production and plant certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

Signed into law by President Reagan in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States. Thanks to voluntary participation by farmers, ranchers and private landowners, CRP has improved water quality, reduced soil erosion and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species.

The new changes to CRP do not impact the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a related program offered by CCC and state partners.

Producers wanting to apply for the CRP continuous signup or CRP grasslands should contact their USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit www.farmers.gov. More information on CRP can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.

Secretary Perdue Applauds Red Tape Reduction for Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the removal of a burdensome regulation that has long plagued family farms. The rule requiring producers to obtain Data Universal Number System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) numbers to participate in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs has been eliminated. Congress included this repeal in the FY 2018 Omnibus spending package, USDA’s official regulatory change will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

“I’m pleased Congress helped us to achieve one of our regulatory goals of cutting red tape for producers utilizing conservation programs by exempting them from SAM and DUNS requirements,” Secretary Perdue said. “These numbers were designed for billion-dollar government contractors, not everyday farmers trying to support their families. These changes help streamline the customer experience for farmers, which is a top priority at USDA.”

Prior to this rule change in the 2018 Omnibus spending bill, DUNS and SAM numbers were required for any federal contract application. This became an onerous regulation for small farms when it was intended for large government contractors. DUNS and SAM registration is still required for the following:

  • Partnership agreements entered through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
  • All agreements with eligible entities under the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP)
  • Agreements under the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) component of ACEP.
  • Partnership agreements under the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) component of ACEP-Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE).
  • Watershed operations agreements with project sponsors.
  • Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) agreements with project sponsors, including Recovery and Floodplain Easements.
  • All cooperative, contribution, interagency, or partnership agreements of Federal contracts used by NRCS to procure goods or services.

NRCS advises participants in its programs to ignore any emails, phone calls or other communications from third-party vendors offering assistance for registering in SAMS or applying for a DUNS number.

To learn more about NRCS financial and technical assistance, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.

 

Source: USDA

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Secretary Perdue Names FSA Administrator

From USDA: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the appointment of Richard Fordyce to serve as Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA). In his role, Fordyce will provide leadership for FSA and its mission to support agricultural production across America through a network of over 2,100 county and 50 state offices.

“As a fourth-generation farmer, Richard brings firsthand knowledge and experience to this role,” Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “I am confident that he will continue to help USDA become the most efficient, effective customer-focused agency in the federal government as he leads this customer-focused mission area.”

Richard Fordyce most recently served as State Executive Director for FSA in Missouri. Prior to his appointment by the Trump Administration, Fordyce served as the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture from 2013 to 2017. In 2015, Fordyce was awarded the Missouri Farm Bureau Distinguished Service Award and the Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow Alumnus of the Year. He and his wife, Renee, have two children and grow soybeans, corn and beef cattle on the family farm.

Secretaries Perdue and Zinke Join Forces to Combat 2018 Wildfire Season

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today hosted a fire briefing for Members of Congress at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to hear the forecast for this year’s wildfire season. Following the meeting, the secretaries sent a memorandum to wildland fire leadership highlighting the importance of inter-departmental collaboration to increase firefighter, public, and community safety as the 2018 wildfire season approaches. The 2017 wildfire season was one of the most challenging years on record, stressing the need for the USDA and the Department of the Interior to work together in combating this year’s fires.

“As we begin this year’s fire season, we want to remind everyone that the protection of firefighters and public safety is the single highest priority in every fire management activity and decision that we make,” Perdue and Zinke said. “Last year we lost 14 wildland firefighters who sacrificed their own lives to protect the lives of others and that is something we hope to prevent this year.”

“Additionally, both Departments will continue to collaborate to ensure all firefighting assets are being used in an efficient and effective manner. It is essential that firefighters have the right tools, resources, and flexibility to allow them to do their jobs safely. As we explore opportunities to improve efficiencies, we will look to integrate technology, such as the use of unmanned aircraft systems, into our operations and capitalize on other advancements to promote firefighter safety, support planning, and protect communities.”

To view the memorandum in its entirety, please click here.

Perdue Announces Additional Hurricane and Wildfire Recovery Details

Under the direction of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced new details on eligibility for a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disaster program, 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (2017 WHIP). In total, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will deploy up to $2.36 billion that Congress appropriated through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to help producers with recovery of their agricultural operations in at least nine states with hurricane damage and states impacted by wildfire. Following the announcement, Secretary Perdue issued this statement:

“Last year our nation experienced some of the most significant disasters we have seen in decades, some back-to-back, at the most critical time in their production year. While USDA has a suite of disaster programs as well as crop insurance available to help producers manage their risk, Congress felt it was important to provide extra assistance to our nation’s farms and ranches that were the hardest hit last year,” Secretary Perdue said. “At President Trump’s direction, our team is working as quickly as possible to make this new program available to farmers in need. Our aim is to provide excellent customer service, building on efforts which began the day the storm hit.”

Key Updates Include:

  • Hurricane Recovery: To be eligible a crop, tree, bush or vine must be located in a primary disaster county with either a Presidential declaration or a Secretarial designation due to a 2017 hurricane. Crops, trees, bushes or vines located in other counties may also be eligible if the producer provides documentation the loss was caused by a 2017 hurricane.
  • Wildfire Recovery: Any crop, tree, bush or vine, damaged by a 2017 wildfire is eligible.
  • Eligible Producers: Eligibility will be determined on an individual basis, using the level of insurance coverage purchased for 2017 for the total crop acres on the area for which the WHIP application is made. Eligible producers who certify to an average adjusted gross income (AGI) of at least 75 percent derived from farming or ranching, including other agriculture and forestry-based businesses during the tax years 2013, 2014 and 2015, will be eligible for a $900,000 payment limitation with verification. All other eligible producers requesting 2017 WHIP benefits will be subject to a $125,000 payment limitation.
  • Crop Insurance Requirement: Both insured and uninsured producers are eligible to apply for WHIP. However, all producers opting to receive 2017 WHIP payments will be required to purchase crop insurance at the 60% coverage level, or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) at the 60% buy up coverage level if crop insurance is not available. Coverage must be in place for the next two applicable crop years to meet program requirements.
  • Acreage Reporting Requirements: In addition, for the applicable crop years, all producers are required to file an acreage report and report production (if applicable).
  • Payment Formula: FSA will calculate WHIP payments with this formula:

    Payment = Expected Value of the Crop x WHIP Factor – Value of Crop Harvested – Insurance Indemnity

    The WHIP factor ranges from 65 percent to 95 percent. Producers who did not insure their crops in 2017 will receive a 65 percent WHIP Factor. Insured producers, or producers who had NAP, will receive between 70 percent and 95 percent WHIP Factors; those purchasing higher levels of coverage will receive higher WHIP Factors.

Other USDA Disaster Assistance:

Drought, wildfires and other disasters continue to impact farmers and ranchers, and 2017 WHIP is just one of many programs available through USDA to help with recovery. From crop insurance to on-the-ground rehabilitation programs like the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), USDA is here to help. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 provided funding for ECP and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. The Act also provided amendments to make programs like the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-raised Fish Program, Tree Assistance Program and Livestock Indemnity Program even more responsive.

More Information:

FSA will hold a sign-up for 2017 WHIP no later than July 16. Additional information on WHIP is available on FSA’s 2017 WHIP webpage. For immediate assistance under any of our other disaster programs, please contact a local USDA service center or learn more at www.fsa.usda.gov/disaster.

-Source: USDA

Montana to Exercise Animal Disease Response

The Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) is collaborating with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other state and local agencies to conduct an animal disease response exercise, May 8-10, 2018.

The three-day functional exercise will enable MDOL to practice the state’s animal disease response plan. Numerous federal, state and local government agencies will participate in the exercise, which will be based on an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the United States.

“Foot-and-mouth disease would have devastating consequences for Montana’s livestock industry and how we handle the initial response would be crucial,” said State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski. “Testing our response plan in an exercise format will be very beneficial and we look forward to participating in the exercise.”

Foot-and-mouth disease was last identified in the United States in 1929. FMD is a highly contagious disease of cattle, sheep, swine, goats, deer and other cloven-hooved animals. It is not a human food safety concern nor a public health threat; however, it is a major concern for animal health officials because it could have potentially devastating economic consequences due to disrupted trade and lost investor confidence. Montana is home to over 2.5 million head of cattle which bring around $1 billion each year in cash receipts.

“This exercise will be a positive experience that will make Montana’s livestock industry more resilient and better prepare us for an outbreak,” said MDOL Executive Officer Mike Honeycutt. “The public should not be concerned if they hear anything about foot-and-mouth disease during the days of the exercise.”

The mission of the Montana Department of Livestock is to control and eradicate animal diseases, prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans, and to protect the livestock industry from theft and predatory animals. For more information on the Montana Department of Livestock, visit www.liv.mt.gov.

USDA Rural Development Innovation Center Launches Interactive Webpage to Share Best Practices for Rural Economic Development

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today unveiled a new interactive webpage to identify best practices for building rural prosperity.

“Rural communities need forward-thinking strategies to build strong, resilient futures,” Hazlett said. “USDA’s Rural Development Innovation Center is focused on identifying unique opportunities, pioneering new, creative solutions to tough challenges, and making Rural Development’s programs easier to understand, use and access.”

The webpage highlights effective strategies that have been used to create jobs, build infrastructure, strengthen partnerships and promote economic development in rural America.

An interactive feature allows webpage visitors to submit comments on ways USDA can improve Rural Development program delivery. Innovation Center staff will review these recommendations and direct customers to resources, services and expertise that will help their communities create transformative solutions to complex rural challenges.

The webpage also highlights USDA resources that can be used for investments in infrastructure and innovation. These resources include USDA’s Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grant Program, Community Connect Grant Program, and Community Facilities Programs.

Secretary Perdue established the Rural Development Innovation Center to streamline, modernize and strengthen the delivery of Rural Development programs. To do this, the Innovation Center is focused on improving customer service to rural communities and increasing rural prosperity through strategic partnerships and capacity-building, data analytics and evaluation, and regulatory reform.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump, which included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

NCBA Lays Out Principles for Regulating Fake Meat

Today the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted official comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlining key principles for the regulation of fake meat products. The comments, filed in response to Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Petition Number 18-01, encourage USDA to look beyond modifying “standards of identity” in order to provide adequate protection for beef producers and consumers.

“It is critical that the federal government step up to the plate and enforce fair and accurate labeling for fake meat,” said Kevin Kester, President of NCBA. “As long as we have a level playing field, our product will continue to be a leading protein choice for families in the United States and around the world.”

NCBA’s regulatory principles are designed to effectively address both plant-based and lab-grown imitation beef products. Specifically, NCBA:

1) Requests that USDA work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “take appropriate, immediate enforcement action against improperly-labeled imitation products.”

NCBA firmly believes the term beef should only be applicable to products derived from actual livestock raised by farmers and ranchers. For misbranded and mislabeled plant-based protein products, existing legislation gives FDA the authority to take enforcement actions. However, the agency has a history of failing to enforce labeling laws. Rather than expending time and resources to develop a standard of identity the FDA will blatantly ignore, NCBA requests USDA engage with FDA to facilitate immediate, appropriate enforcement actions against imitation meat product labels that clearly violate existing laws.

2) Urges USDA to “assert jurisdiction over foods consisting of, isolated from or produced from cell culture or tissue culture derived from livestock and poultry animals or their parts.” 

NCBA believes that USDA-FSIS is the agency best placed to regulate emerging lab-grown meat products. First, USDA-FSIS possesses the technical expertise and regulatory infrastructure to ensure perishable meat food products are safe for U.S. consumers. Lab-grown meat must comply with the same stringent food safety inspection standards as all other meat products.

Second, USDA-FSIS labeling standards provided greater protection against false and misleading marketing claims. Unlike the FDA, USDA-FSIS requires pre-approval of all labels before products hit the marketplace. This will ensure consistent labeling practices across all products, and prevent misleading marketing labels such as “clean meat.”