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Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hosted a roundtable Tuesday, May 28, to describe a quickly-organized federal program to offset trade-related market declines for the ag industry. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

Hoeven seeks to fill in blanks on ag trade aid, but some rules still being written

FARGO — A little sunshine, a recent bump upward in prices for crops and another federal program to help ease the pain of a trade war are not completely relieving anxieties for farmers.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., held a roundtable Tuesday, May 28, with farmers and lenders to outline the $16 billion in agriculture assistance in what he called “MFP 2.0,” a second year of the Market Facilitation Program for the ag sector but with a different way of calculating payments for farmers.

No one at the meeting said a negative word about the Trump administration economic predicament. Hoeven blamed Chinese trade negotiators for “backing off” from a trade deal that would have been good both for agriculture and energy.

Hoeven described a multi-pronged response to natural and economic disasters. Some farmers may benefit from a natural disaster bill that allots $3 billion to agriculture within a $19.1 billion disaster bill.

Prevented planting insurance impacts are coming in the wake of flooding and crop delays in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, as well as pockets of North Dakota. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has requested disaster declarations for 19 counties. Hoeven said some of that disaster aid may help those 19 counties, but probably not contiguous counties.

Funding for the Market Facilitation Program is provided through the Commodity Credit Corp., which is funded each year by Congress through the agriculture appropriations subcommittee that is chaired by Hoeven.

Hoeven said “every American” benefits from the farm program, which delivers safe, abundant and affordable food supplies.

The Agriculture Assistance Plan includes:

  • Market Facilitation Program payments — $14.5 billion in direct payments to farmers.

All Title I commodities will be covered, including soybeans, wheat, corn, canola, barley, oats, sunflowers, dry peas, flaxseed, lentils, dry beans and others.

Farmers will get about half the payment at the end of July. Additional assistance could come at the end of November and then in January.

Payments will be based on a single county rate multiplied by a farm's total plantings to those crops in aggregate in 2019. Farmers have until July 15 to plant and certify their crops with the Farm Service Agency.

Single county payment rates will be determined by the county's recent planting and production. Payments will not be dependent on the type of crop planted, therefore will not distort planting decisions.

Hoeven said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is working to make sure payment limits won’t be less than the payment limits for last year’s MFP program.

Dairy producers also will receive payments based on production history.

  • Food purchases — $1.4 billion. This includes purchases of surplus commodities like fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry and milk for distribution to organizations including food pantries and school nutrition programs.

  • Agriculture trade promotion — $100 million. This is designed to help develop new markets for U.S. agriculture goods, even as tariff wars have torn some asunder.

Still writing rules

Brad Thykeson, North Dakota state executive director of the FSA, which delivers farm programs and dollars, reported that the state had received some $442 million in the first MFP program that was put in place because of 2018 market impacts, largely on soybeans.

Thykeson said his agency will be ready to deliver the new program, but he acknowledged officials in Washington are still writing and developing rules “as we speak.”

Scott German of Oakes, a board member for the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, suggested putting in an extra payment for prevented planting coverage, perhaps up a “flat 20%” from the 55% typically available. Howard Olson, senior vice president for insurance and communications for AgCountry Farm Credit Services based in Fargo, advised making sure that people who initially had “paid a little extra” for higher coverage not be penalized if everybody gets the same rate.

“It could mean the difference between losing money and making a dollar or two an acre,” Olson said. Complexity, as well as equity and fairness across the country, are questions still to be answered. “I think growers will try to plant everything they can,” he said, but noted that there are 20 to 25% of acres in Dickey and LaMoure counties that may not be planted and won’t be eligible for an MFP that requires planting.