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New farm bill brings local benefits
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New farm bill brings local benefits

Mar 30, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The bill increases the number of Fremont County ranchers

eligible for compensation and makes up for a lapse in funding to cover the 2012 drought

The newly passed federal farm bill could help Fremont County farmers and ranchers recover from the 2012 drought and reorganize programs helping agricultural producers improve irrigation systems and other equipment.

Officially called the Agricultural Act of 2014, Congress passed the legislation in February after years of delays. It is intended to direct agricultural policy for five years.

"I know that we are a very large livestock county, so to get the Livestock (Forage) Disaster Program is going to be huge for us," said Andrea Bryce, Farm Service Agency executive director for Fremont County.

"To get some assistance with those extra feed costs is going to help our producers."

Funding lapse

The bill increases the number of Fremont County ranchers eligible for compensation and makes up for a lapse in funding to cover the 2012 drought. The program should start operating in April, Bryce said.

Called LFP, the plan compensates ranchers when a drought forces them to stop grazing early, Bryce said. It provides funding to help to buy extra feed, Bryce said. The program was in place in past, but lapsed while Congress struggled to pass a farm bill.

The 2014 bill reinstates the program and makes it retroactive to 2011. Many local producers should be eligible for payments from the 2012 drought year once the program is implemented next month, Bryce said.

"There should be some big money coming out of this office this April," she said.

Conservation

The Farm Bill had a smaller impact to National Resource Conservation programs.

"The new farm bill really mostly consolidates a number of programs," program conservationist Cheryl Grapes said. "It takes 23 and consolidates them down to 13. It really streamlines many of the programs."

NRCS provides financial assistance for agricultural producers to install equipment that conserves resources or implement conservation and agriculture easements. Most of the programs were continued in some form, but they may have been combined with others.

Consolidating the programs simplifies applying for them and administrative work for NRCS.

"It's simpler for the agency to administer, and simpler for the producer as well," Grapes said.

Details of some of the changes have not been finalized, but one example of the consolidation is the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program was combined with Environmental Qualities Incentives Program.

EQIP provides funding and technical assistance to producers to implement conservation practices.

"We do a lot of irrigation projects, or rangeland projects, livestock water distribution and grazing plans (through EQIP)," Grapes said.

WHIP helped farmers improve wildlife habitat on their land, and though it was combined with EQIP, it is not totally gone.

"Some of the EQIP funds will go towards those wildlife needs," Grapes said.

Sh recommends farmers and ranchers contact an NRCS field office if they are interested in any of the agency's programs. NRCS has locations in Lander, Riverton, Fort Washakie and Dubois.

Disaster aid

Another change for the Farm Service Agency is that more producers can be eligible for several disaster compensation programs, including LFP.

Before the bill, ranchers and farmers had buy an insurance policy for their crops through Non-insurable Crop Disaster Assistance Program, or NAP, to be eligible for the disaster compensation programs, Bryce said. But that is no longer true.

About 100 operations a year would buy insurance policies through NAP, she said.

"In the past only those, 100 were eligible for livestock disaster policies, but now everybody is--it's big," she said.

For instance, producers who did not have an NAP policy but were hit by the drought in 2012 could receive compensation through LFP, she said.

The Farm Bill also could make NAP cheaper for some local producers. A policy costs $250 she said, and in the past the fee was waived for low-income farmers.

The 2014 Farm Bill adds waivers for beginning farmers and "socially disadvantaged" producers, which includes American Indians and women.

Fewer operations may be eligible for the program, however. Before, those with more $1 million in adjusted gross income were ineligible, but the 2014 bill lowered the cutoff.

"In order to participate and receive assistance, your adjusted gross income cannot exceed $900,000," Bryce said.

More eligible

The new Livestock Indemnity and Emergency Assistance for Livestock programs should help local ranchers and bee keepers. They also are livestock disaster programs, and just like LFP, producers now do not need a NAP policy to be eligible for them.

"Those are going to cover livestock losses, deaths, in excess of normal mortality for adverse weather or by animals reintroduced to the wild by the government or protected by the government," Bryce said. "That will include wolves and grizzlies, that will cover fire and disease."

Farmer and rancher Bryan Hamilton of Lyons Valley said the farm bill helped fund improvements to his irrigation system. He raises cattle on his father's place and grows alfalfa for cattle feed.

Farmers and ranchers interested in any Farm Service program may visit the agency's office at 508 N. Broadway in Riverton, Bryce said.

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