By JULIA BARATTA
THREE RIVERS, Mich. — While no one can control the weather, a few organizations are willing to assist the farmers affected by this unusual spring.
These groups have come together and presented various options for farmers who are struggling to get crops in, care for their livestock, and pay bills in order to keep their operations running. A recent series of presentations in Michigan shared some ideas offered through financial institutions.
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has a number of programs set up to help farms in distress. One common offering is Prevented Planting. These are for fallow fields that were intended to be planted but aren’t due to weather conditions.
Proof that the acreage was going to be used to grow crops is required in order to qualify for any funds available through this program. A farmer can appreciate this opportunity along with crop insurance, but must file by a certain date through their insurance agent.
For those who have dairy operations, the Dairy Margin Coverage Program presents an option to regain a portion of the income lost because of the milk market being low. Producers will recover the difference between the national price of milk and the average cost of feed.
There are various choices to be made, including coverage level per cwt. and coverage percentage of the operation’s production history. A website is available to assist dairy owners in any decision-making, at www.fsa.usda.gov/dmc-tool
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) works with farmers who are willing to incorporate conservation practices on their property. Myriad options are available, including contour grass strips, duck nesting habitat, filter strips, grass waterways, riparian buffers, shallow water area for wildlife, and wetland restoration.
A request has been made and is under consideration concerning the use of CRP lands for grazing and harvesting for forage.
The Organic Cost Share Program presents farmers with financial assistance to gain organic certification. The program will pay a portion of the fees for the certification, with the farmer responsible for the remaining balance. Once the farm receives certification, it may qualify for reimbursements of 75 percent of annual costs relating to organic practices.
The maximum amount a producer can receive is $750 per qualified category such as crops both wild and domestic, livestock, handling, and the State Organic Program Fees.
Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs offer assistance for certain commodities, with the list including barley, canola, corn, grain sorghum, oats, soybeans, sunflower seed, and wheat. These programs require the operator choose one or the other, with the option to change annually beginning in 2021 to the program that is more helpful to their operation.
Loan programs through the FSA have been increased to assist producers dealing with their financial stress. The Direct Farm Ownership loan limit has been increased to $600,000, while Guaranteed Farm Ownership was raised to $1.75 million. The Direct Operating loan limit was upped to $400,000 and the Guaranteed Operating loan limit is now $1.75 million.
A farmer may now take out a $50,000 Farm Ownership Microloan and a $50,000 Operating Microloan, as the $50,000 limit for both together has been lifted.
The 2018 farm bill allows for the extended authority to offer loans for barley, corn, grain sorghum, oats, soybeans, and wheat, as well as graded and non-graded wool, mohair, and honey. Loan rates will be increased for all commodities except oilseeds, wool, mohair, and honey.
The FSA offers a variety of disaster programs that provide for operations affected by adverse weather conditions and natural issues. The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish helps with losses relating to the previously mentioned disasters, along with disease.
The Livestock Indemnity Program offers benefits for operators who have had extreme losses to weather or attacks by wild animals or insects. The Livestock Forage Disaster Program will provide aid to those whose fields are not fit for grazing because of the weather.
Finally, the Tree Assistance Program will assist in the replacement of fruit-bearing trees that were destroyed during adverse weather.
Crop insurance is another financial opportunity. Various options can be combined to provide for a farmer’s complete operation, with many companies able to offer ideas and plans for each individual aspect within the farm.
Farm service organizations can ease the financial burden with additional loan opportunities. These homegrown businesses tend to be more personal and easier to work with. Many provide numerous financial services, including tax preparation, accounting, online banking, and assistance with farm cash management.
While all these options lean toward financial solutions, they are not prepared for dealing with mental health struggles, though it is recommended to identify any signs of stress within your physical body, mind, and responses to difficult situations. Many of the root causes for stress have been occurring during the unusual spring weather patterns.
Three strategies for controlling stress are encouraging yourself with positives, taking deep breathes, and making a decision to change an attitude or response. These are difficult times for farms and, unfortunately, experts think it isn’t going to get better soon.
But there are positive solutions being developed in light of negative circumstances. Explore any and all options to find the best ones for your farming operation, cash flow, and future – because there will always be a need for farmers.