Since its official signing by President Barack Obama one year ago, the Agricultural Act of 2014, more commonly known as the 2014 Farm Bill, has made significant impacts across landscapes throughout the world and regionally.
Throughout the year, it has provided authorization to the United States Department of Agriculture for the implementation of services and programs that will benefit farmers, rural development, trade and foreign agriculture, research, conservation, renewable energy and energy efficiency, forestry, nutrition, next generation farmers and ranchers, local and regional food systems, and specialty crops and organics.
“Every American, and many around the world, has been positively impacted by the 2014 Farm Bill,” said USDA secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Farm Bill achieves meaningful reform while making critical investments that create jobs, drive long-term economic growth, and support more resilient rural communities where people want to live and raise families.”
“I am proud to stand alongside the thousands of USDA employees who have worked hard to implement the bulk of the Farm Bill’s programs in record time,” added Vilsack.
Locally, Turlock dairy producer Ray Souza reflected that the Margin Protection Program, an element of the 2014 Farm Bill, has been particularly beneficial to the area’s farmers.
“The Margin Protection Program is a good opportunity for producers to buy insurance to protect their margins,” said Souza. “A lot of the farmers that I have talked to have not participated in buying up additional insurance, but it is certainly still an important program.”
Initially launched in August, this voluntary insurance policy program provides dairy farmers with financial assistance when the margin, the difference between the price of milk and feed costs, falls below the coverage level chosen by the farmer.
The program, which allows dairy producers to select the level of protection that best suits their operation, effectively replaced the previous Milk Income Loss Contract program, a change Souza approved.
“Farmers are better off with this program that with previous programs from the past which weren’t really beneficial at all,” said Souza.
Under the program, participating dairy producers were given basic coverage for an administrative fee of $100. Once started, producers are then able to opt for higher levels of coverage at incremental premiums.
The popularity of the program was demonstrated in January, when Vilsack announced that over 23,000 of the nation’s dairy operations enrolled in the program.
“Enrollment far exceeded our expectations in the first year,” said Vilsack in January. “We’re pleased that so many dairy producers are taking advantage of the expanded protection.”
Despite its announced success by the USDA, the Margin Protection Program could use some improvements, according to Souza.
“The Farm Bill is a good bill that helps dairy farmers to some degree, but there are some glitches in the Margin Protection Program,” commented Souza. “It doesn’t quite give California dairy farmers the same protection that is given to farmers in different parts of the country because they use feed costs from Midwest states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. This gives them a slight advantage.”
“It’s good but not as good as it could be,” Souza concluded.
Dairy producers interested in enrolling in the Margin Protection Program for 2016 can register beginning on July 2.
Another title included in the 2014 Farm Bill focuses on conservation efforts, which provides assistance to farmers in order to adopt conservation activities that will protect and improve water quality and quantity, soil health, wildlife habitat, and air quality.
These conservation efforts come from the successful collaboration between agricultural producers and partners to design and implement conservation projects that effectively address regional issues and priorities.
Since its implementation, the 2014 Farm Bill has led to the development of 115 high-impact, locally-led conservation projects nationwide, as well as the partnership with beginning farmers to begin or continue conservation work on approximately two million acres with its provision of $200 million in financial assistance.
Locally, the National Resource Conservation Service has boasted its own success with farmers in regards to conservation efforts.
“Last year we processed over 1,500 applications regarding interest in conservation on county farms,” said NRCS district conservationist Diana Waller. “We have had 173 new conservation contracts, totaling $6.1 million dollars—which means a lot of local interest in on-farm conservation with the ag farm community.”
The NRCS offers a wide variety of assistance in terms of conservation efforts fostered by the 2014 Farm Bill, which directly impact Stanislaus County farmers and ranchers and indirectly benefit all county residents by helping to conserve shared natural resources.