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In farm bill transition, good records are important

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“We don’t know what the future holds in terms of new farm legislation," says Mike Sullivan, Mississippi Farm Services Agency executive director, "but whatever happens, it will be to your advantage to maintain detailed records,” he said at the annual Northeast Mississippi Producer Advisory Council meeting.

In the transition from the old farm bill, under which agriculture is temporarily operating through an extension, to the new farm bill, which Congress may/perhaps/possibly finally get around to passing sometime this year, Mike Sullivan has some advice: Keep good records.

“We don’t know what the future holds in terms of new farm legislation, but whatever happens, it will be to your advantage to maintain detailed records,” he said at the annual Northeast Mississippi Producer Advisory Council meeting.

“We don’t know what kind of variations there will be between the old legislation and the new,” says Sullivan, who is executive director of the Farm Services Agency for the state of Mississippi. “But if some of them are made retroactive, it’s to your benefit to have the records you need to verify what you’ve done and what you need to report.”

Under the extension of the 2008 farm bill,
“many of those programs are still in effect. A decision will be made in March on whether to continue the extension or take other action. We’re taking signups now for direct, countercyclical, and ACRE programs, and you can participate just as you have in the past.

“Marketing assistance loans are also continued; most have been made for the 2012 crop, but we’ll be taking applications for the 2013 crop. Many of the programs that we’ve been offering in the livestock area — livestock indemnity program, livestock forage program, emergency livestock assistance program, and others — are authorized and extended.”

Some of the livestock disaster/assistance programs are not currently funded, Sullivan notes, “but I encourage you to keep good records so, if the time comes and these programs are offered, you’ll be able to document your losses.”

It has just been announced, he says, that the Conservation Reserve Program will be offered again, with signups starting May 20. “This has been a great program over the years. We expect to have 65,000 acres of contracts expiring in Mississippi this year, but current high row crop prices may dampen interest in CRP.”

During the transition period between farm bills, Sullivan says, producers should be alert to announcements about various programs. “We’re going to do the best we can to keep you informed about what’s available as you’re making plans for the year.

“But, many of our services have been affected by budget cuts and cost-cutting measures. For example, we’re no longer able to publish our monthly newsletter that has been mailed to Mississippi farmers. I’d advise you to pay attention to the media for information about these programs.

“We are also making information available through e-mails and text messages to cell phones and other devices. You can also apply or sign up for many of our programs on our website. This saves us a lot of money, and can save you time and travel. And of course, you’re always welcome to visit your FSA office for the information you need and for help with any of our programs.

“We have taken steps to streamline our operations and become more cost-efficient,” Sullivan says. “With that in mind, please bear with us. We’ll be moving from an expired farm bill situation to a new farm bill, and there will be some adapting necessary during this transition period.

“Right now, FSA is under a hiring freeze; we can’t fill positions that are vacant. We have hard-working, dedicated people, who understand your needs and will help you in any way they can. We want our producers to have every opportunity to participate in these programs.”

“We also have an excellent cross-section of farmers on our state FSA committee,” Sullivan says. “And there are representatives from the agribusiness sectors, ranging from cattle to catfish to produce — all are people who understand agriculture and where the producer’s coming from.

“Agriculture is still the biggest business in Mississippi by far, and what you do in your communities has a very direct effect on our state’s economy and the health of our rural communities.”

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