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Richard Fordyce

Richard Fordyce

DES MOINES — Richard Fordyce, administrator for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, has a simple answer when asked if the people at FSA have ever been busier than they are at the moment.

“Never,” Fordyce said.

“We have amazing staff across the country,” he said after his presentation at last week’s economic summit sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. But Fordyce, a farmer from Missouri who served as the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said the staff is trying to cope with quite a few responsibilities at the moment.

He checks off the list: The FSA is trying to implement items from the 2018 farm bill, which was passed late last year. The agency is working to implement a disaster aid bill passed by Congress a few weeks ago.

And it is also tasked with delivering on the second trade aid package proposed by the Trump administration this fiscal year.

The second round of the Market Facilitation Program is aimed at helping farmers deal with repercussions from the trade war with China. Announced on May 23, it is to include up to $16 billion. That figure is not guaranteed — it depends on what happens in the trade war in the coming months.

The first payment will happen, Fordyce said, and likely will come later this summer, but the exact amount of money included in that payment has yet to be determined. Fordyce said it will be a “significant percentage” of the total.

When it was announced in May, USDA officials said they did not want to influence planting decisions so payments would not be based on the specific crop planted, but rather on percentages of crops planted in each county.

Payments will be based on planted acres (although acres that were planted and then flooded out will be counted).

Those changes make this MFP different from the first round paid out last winter. That payment was based on actual production since it came after the harvest.

Meanwhile, the disaster bill passed recently by Congress adds about $3 billion to be paid to farmers in areas impacted by hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding.

“We’re working feverishly (to determine how that money will be distributed),” Fordyce said. “We’ve got a finite amount of money to address all these disasters.”

The MFP is also limited, since the administration chose to implement those programs without going through Congress, meaning it is using Commodity Credit Corporation dollars that are also finite.

With all those things happening, the implementation of the farm bill is not getting a lot of attention, but Fordyce said the USDA is working on it, with regular updates published on the agency’s website. The latest cited:

  • Farm Service Agency began offering reimbursements to eligible producers for MPP-Dairy premiums paid between 2014-17 on May 8.
  • The new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program sign-up began on June 17 with margin payments made to qualifying producers beginning in early July.
  • FSA began accepting applications on June 3 for certain practices under the continuous CRP, offering a one-year extension to existing CRP participants.
  • On June 20, USDA announced $75 million in funding for the eradication and control of feral swine in a joint effort between NRCS and APHIS.
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