Agriculture Facts: What is the Farm Bill?

What is the farm bill? What was its initial purpose?

Established during the 1933 Great Depression, the farm bill was created to serve as the federal government’s primary agricultural and food policy tool.

Initially dubbed the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA), this bill provided financial assistance to farmers who were struggling as a result of excess crop supply creating low prices, and also to manage and ensure an adequate food supply. The bill allowed farmers to receive payment for not growing food on a percentage of their land as parceled out by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. What’s more, it enabled the government to buy excess grain from farmers, which could then be sold later if unfavorable weather or unforeseeable circumstances negatively impacted output. Also enacted by the AAA was a nutrition program – the predecessor of the current (and much-debated) food stamp program.

The bill has come a long way since its enactment, though not with ease. The bill is a source of intense controversy as it impacts many sectors: international trade, environmental conservation, food safety, and the welfare of rural communities. Agricultural subsidy programs mandated by the farm bill are especially debated within the U.S.; hence, the farm bill’s recent series of setbacks.

Much to the agricultural community’s relief, the heavy, long-winded farm bill proceedings finally reached closure on February 7, 2014.

Now freshly passed, the 2014 farm bill promises new technical and financial benefits both to agricultural producers and the environment. A vast array of agricultural programs will receive financial assistance, including USDA programs and conservation programs. The support is intended to 1) help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners continue to address natural resource concerns on their land, 2) enhance the nation’s conservation investments, and 3) streamline conservation efforts.

Do you want to enhance or reset your agricultural land to make for a more eco-conscious operation? Call on Bankers South’s extensive ag lending experience! Look into our AgAmerica farms loans, which cover all facets of farming, from smaller blueberry farms to vast cattle ranches. When it’s time to plant your next row crop, expand your citrus groves, plant timber, buy more cattle, or reset your ag operation, these ag loans are a great choice. For more information on our ag loan types and farmland financing options, please contact us! 


Florida Celebrates New Farm Bill

If you haven’t heard the good news, the farm bill received its final seal of approval courtesy of President Obama last week. It’s about time!

Its new-found status of completion is cause to celebrate.

Agribusinesses in Southwest Florida are very pleased, especially citrus growers.

Citrus growers waited nervously and impatiently for Obama to sign off on the proposed $125 million worth of emergency funds (dispersed over the next five years) dedicated to extensive citrus greening (HLB) research. Fortunately, Obama signed in favor.

These research funds are expected to not only benefit Florida, but also California, Texas, Arizona, and all citrus growing operations in the United States.

Over the past five years, Florida citrus growers have put approximately $70 million into citrus greening studies. Yet, despite heavy research initiatives, HLB continues to infect and destruct, damaging groves, killing off trees, and limiting harvests. Clearly, the solutions are slim. Hopefully, with these emergency funds in place, real solutions will surface.

Separate from the $125 million allocated for citrus greening research, the farm bill also assigns $275 million over the next five years to “specialty crop” research and initiatives (up from $230 million in the 2008 farm bill). Since citrus is categorized as a “speciality crop,” this presents additional good news (and funds!) for the industry.

Other nationwide farm bill programs are also expected to benefit Florida’s agribusinesses. New agriculture and food research initiatives, organic agriculture research and education efforts, and beginning farmers and ranchers programs are bound to aid Florida in fortifying its agriculture.

Need help developing your citrus operation? Call on us here Bankers South – a Florida-based ag lending company – for farmland financing support. Our AgAmerica Lending Program boasts unparalleled farm loan products perfect for re-planting citrus trees, expanding your groves, etc. Please contact us for further information about our AgAmerica farm loans and citrus loans!


Farm Bill News: Citrus Industry Scores!

Good news for Florida’s citrus industry and the agricultural community as a whole!

The 5-year farm bill debacle is finito. Well, almost.

As of February 4th, it’s finally out of Congress’ hands.

Now, all that’s left is President Obama’s seal of approval, which should come in no time!

Along with Obama’s stamp of approval, will follow a plethora of benefits to Florida’s citrus industry.

Anyone involved in the citrus industry is aware that Florida’s signature citrus crops have been hurting due to the ever-expanding HLB “citrus greening” epidemic.

To combat this invasive beast, heavy research and collaboration is paramount and urgent.

The farm bill offers the industry hope with its $125 million worth of mandatory funding for citrus pest and disease research initiatives. $25 million of this funding will be disbursed each year for the next five years to contribute to dedicated research efforts. Any unused funds will stick around, getting passed on to the following year.

Finally, the industry has access to a great organization with sufficient funding in place to support research outside of grower assessments. Thanks to a strong collective of citrus supporters, congressmen, and senators, as well as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, this critical federal program has reached fruition.

Need help developing your citrus operation? Call on us here Bankers South – a Florida-based ag lending company – for farmland financing support. Our AgAmerica Lending Program boasts unparalleled ag loan products perfect for re-planting citrus trees, expanding your groves, etc. Please contact us for further information about our AgAmerica ag loans and citrus loans!


3 Major Farm Bill Updates

The farm bill still hasn’t finalized, but an agreement could come in the next few days.

Finally, major points of contention are being settled, including the USDA’s spending on food stamps, school lunches, and other feeding programs (up to 80% of the farm bill’s budget), farm programs (about 15%), dairy price supports, agricultural research, meat inspection, treatment of livestock, food labeling, market reports, and so on.

So, what’s in the new farm bill anyways? What points of contention have resolved?  

1. The Dairy Policy.

The farm bill will not include the long-debated dairy policy, championed by Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. This proposal, requiring dairy farmers to cut production if prices dropped below a certain level, was ultimately overhauled.

Since the proposal was nixed, dairy farmers can expect to receive the same price supports when the gap between the price they receive for milk and their feed costs shrinks. So, the stabilization program for dairy farmers will persist, no thanks to Collin Peterson.

2. Food Stamps.

There will be significant cuts to food stamps. Over the next 10 years, a $9 billion cut from the food stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is anticipated. Stricter eligibility standards will be implemented, with the intention of saving taxpayer money and boosting job creation efforts.

3. Country of Origin Labeling. 

Should we all know the origin of our food?

That’s a long-standing question of debate amongst the USDA, the World Trade Organization, livestock producers and consumer advocacy groups. And it still seems to be up-in-the-air.

Page 881 of the farm bill states: “Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts.”

Clearly, the farm bill doesn’t seem to oppose the new “country of origin labeling” rules outlined by the Obama administration in 2013. So it follows, that labels must now present where the meat product was born, raised and slaughtered.

The “farm-to-fork” community and other consumer groups are in favor of the labeling rules. The livestock industry, however, is in strong opposition (especially big-time meat-packing companies, such as Tysons Foods). These companies have fought the new rules in federal court, arguing that these mandates are too high-maintenance and may cause troublesome trade relations with Canada, Mexico and other countries.

Thoughts on the new Farm Bill? Please share!

Dairy farmer? Ranch owner? Bankers South, an established ag lending company, is here to serve your farmland financing needs. Our AgAmerica farm loans and ranch loans cover all facets of farming, from smaller dairy farms to vast cattle ranches. When it’s time to start buying more cattle or farm equipment, these ag loans are a great option!


King Amendment to Farm Bill Threatens Florida’s Agricultural Laws

The Farm Bill debate continues to drag on.

Fortunately, the debate is expected to close by the end of this month (two years later).

Unfortunately, there are looming concerns about one amendment in particular – the King amendment.

This amendment, created by rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, not only threatens the well-being and safety of Florida consumers, animals, and workers, but also robs Florida of its ability to create and implement sound agricultural laws in the future.

A federal overreach?

Sounds like it.

What’s more, Florida will not be the only state to suffer. This amendment will override numerous state and local animal protection laws all over the country. Laws on animal welfare, food safety, labeling, importing, pesticide testing, and livestock testing for disease will be nixed.

Specific Florida laws that will be threatened by the King amendment to the Farm Bill include those that:

  • Protect horses against maiming and mutilation.
  • Require pesticide testing/information for farm worker safety.
  • Require provisions for farm labor contractors.
  • Require standards for wastewater removal related to tomato and citrus processing.

 

So, we know where King stands on all of this, but where does Congress stand?

To date, 180 members have stated opposition to the King amendment.

And the opposition expands wide and far – beyond Congress.

80 groups representing consumer, environmental and animal protection, sustainable agriculture and other interests oppose it, including the National Conference of State Legislators, Association of County Executives, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Consumer Federation of America. What’s more, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Iowa Farmers Union view this amendment as troublesome.

With so much opposition, how is it possible that this might make it into the final draft of the Farm Bill?

Well, King sits in a position of power as he is a member of the very committee that will be finalizing the Farm Bill. Go figure.

Who knows what the final draft will look like, but if it looks like King wants it to look, it will be incredibly devastating for animals and the state’s that have worked so hard to implement effective animal protection laws.

Here’s hoping that the widespread opposition of the majority gets heard!

Bankers South, an ag lending company based in Florida, is here to assist you and your Florida farmland financing. Have questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us! 


Good News for Young/Beginning Farmers

Oftentimes, farm loans are difficult to access for young or beginning farmers. Many agricultural loan programs have proven effective in financing farmland – FSA (Farm Service Agency) loans for example – yet now there is an additional, promising solution.

With the Senate passage of the Farm Bill, also came the potential for a new amendment – the Casey-Harkin-Johanns Microloan Authorization Amendmentthat offers young and beginning farmers up to $35,000 to get their agricultural operation up and running. This amendment has the power to allow young and beginning farmers to get the ball rolling and offers a plan to effectively realize their number one biggest concern: financial capital to start and sustain their farm businesses.

The Casey-Harkin-Johanns Microloan Authorization Amendment offers new and beginning farmers promising potential including:

  • Less heavy paperwork
  • An extended payment period
  • Low-interest farm operating loans for military veterans
  • A quicker turnaround in profit (fingers crossed!)

To be eligible for such government backed farm loan programs you must classify as a beginner or new farmer. To qualify you must:

  • Have not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years
  • Not own a farm or ranch greater than 30 percent of the median size farm in the county as described by the most recent Census for Agriculture
  • Meet the farm loan eligibility requirements of the program to which you are applying
  • Heavily participate in the farming operation

The number and types of farmland financing programs vary for new and beginning farmers. It’s good to be aware of your options so you’re able to get the farm loan that’s best for you and your farming operation. Sometimes, however, a government backed loan isn’t going to cut it. If you’re not able to acquire a government backed loan – USDA loans or FSA loans – or if these ag loan programs are not a good fit, contact us to determine a better solution. A part of our focus and concentration is getting beginning farms, ranches, and young producers the agricultural loans they need to get started with their business.


Shocking News: The House Defeats the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill, with all of its promising farm, trade, and conservation programs, was all set to go. The Senate approved it. It was just up to the House to vote in favor. Unfortunately, the result was less than favorable. The result was failure, frustration, and shock. The result was incredibly unfortunate for farmers, consumers, and the country as a whole.

What happened?

Optimism was high until a food stamp amendment was brought to the table. From here, the controversy picked up and the Farm Bill fell apart. The GOP passed an amendment to institute work requirements for food stamps. The massive cuts that were proposed to the $75-billion food stamp program caused Democrats to pull out and strongly reject the Farm Bill. The cuts were steep and Democrats feared that millions of the country’s poor would be pushed out of the program.

Yet, the opposition by the Democrats wasn’t the only reason for the bill’s defeat. There was, Democrats aside, a strong split amongst the Republicans as well.

What happens to the Farm Bill moving forward?

The future of the Farm Bill is uncertain. At this point, it is not looking very promising. It is very much in limbo as the House weighs its options, reassessing the best way to move ahead. Analysts and lobbyists predict that the outcome will simply involve an extension of the farm bill that is currently in place. There is great opposition to this option, so it will be interesting to see what will ultimately unfold.

The hope by supporters, including many agricultural groups, ag lending and banking groups, is that the bill will be re-considered. The hope is that a deal will be reached to revive the bill to provide the farming industry the support and legislation it really needs. Without it, agricultural groups are in a rocky place.

Here’s hoping.


Senate Approves Farm Bill

The agricultural industry has received promising news via the Senate. The Farm Bill has passed with flying colors and with it brings several amazing reforms and programs to enhance crop research and pest and disease research, improve market promotion, boost nutrition, and support funding for specialty crops (fruits and vegetables), and more. This support has really restored confidence for those in the industry.

Reform features, as cited by Growing Produce, include:

  • Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $70 million per year
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $25 million (fiscal year 2014); $30 million (fiscal year 2015-16); $65 million (fiscal year 2017); $50 million (fiscal year 2018)
  • Coordinated Plant Management Program funded at $60 million (fiscal year 2014-17) and $65 million (fiscal year 2018)
  • Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • Section 32 specialty crop purchases funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • Department of Defense Fresh program fully funded at $50 million per year consistent with 2008 levels

 

Now, comes the process of waiting on the full House to also approve these acts and reforms.

Farmers have been working relentlessly to get the Farm Bill heard loud and clear, going so far as to compose a letter signed by approximately 200 supporters, including ag lending and banking groups and processing and production groups.

An excerpt of this letter briefly highlights the significance of this agricultural reform for the industry:

“The farm bill promotes an economically healthy U.S. agriculture sector. Its policies serve a variety of purposes including meeting the food, fuel and fiber needs of consumers worldwide; providing a farm and natural resource safety net; improving our balance of trade through trade promotion programs; promoting rural development; and creating needed jobs here at home.”

It all sounds solid, yet there does exist strong opposition to the Farm Bill. Hopefully, this opposition will only fuel a sound debate that intelligently explores the potential of this bill. Fortunately, it seems as though the majority is in favor. Due to a strong majority, the bill is expected to pass quickly and effortlessly. Legislation starts next week, so stay tuned! Fingers crossed for more promising news for the agricultural community!


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