Ag Summit: $96 million has been paid out in S.D. disaster relief since April 15

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Farm Forum

The lush green pastures and verdant fields near Deadwood are in sharp contrast to the last visit made by an official from Washington, D.C.

Speaking at the South Dakota Governor’s Ag Summit last week, Michael Scuse, Farm and Foreign Agriculture Undersecretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, said, “We knew how hard this state was hit because I was here and personally saw it. That’s the message I conveyed to Secretary Vilsack.”

Scuse traveled to the state last October, on behalf of Vilsack, to see the devastation that Winter Storm Atlas inflicted on ranchers and farmers. He met with producers and traveled to their ranches to hear and see examples of loss. The message he took back to his boss Tom Vilsack was that assistance needed to be extended to the people as quickly as possible.

Help came when the 2014 Farm Bill passed. Within 60 days, sign-up for disaster assistance opened on April 15. The gears churned, getting funds out to those impacted by the storm.

Scuse said a notable $884 million has been paid out in disaster relief since April 15. He said for South Dakota that means 6,100 payments totaling $96 million.

The 2014 Farm Bill, formally known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, makes the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) and Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) permanent programs and provides retroactive authority to cover eligible losses back to October 1, 2011.

When looking at what the state has received to help the farmers and ranchers facing a double whammy of blizzard and drought, South Dakota’s numbers are very impressive, according to Scuse.

Livestock forage assistance for South Dakota farmers and ranchers amounted to $78 million for the 2012 disasters.

“We know how hard this state was hit in October 2013 with Winter Storm Atlas,” Scuse said. “Three out every 4 dollars paid out of LIP program have been sent straight here to South Dakota, nearly $18 million to those who suffered through that blizzard.”

So far this year, 1,118 emergency loans to assist farmers and ranchers have been issued, for a total $158.7 million, Scuse said.

“Disaster assistance was our first focus; now we’ve turned our focus to the Farm Bill safety net,” Scuse said. “We’re figuring out how these new programs will work and are calculating what it will mean. We’ll partner with farmers and ranchers, every single step of the way.”

According to Scuse, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) exemplifies how government should work. He said it’s personal and hands-on. Farmers and ranchers can go to the FSA offices for assistance, but they also have a representation on the county committee that can hear appeals if they have complaints.

Scuse should know. His job is to oversee the 2,000 offices across the country.

Scuse also is in charge of the Foreign Agricultural Service, which is a critical component for ag producers in marketing products overseas.

Foreign trade has seen a record-breaking year for agriculture in the United States. Topping $141 billion dollars, Scuse said it is one of the five biggest years in ag trade in the history of the United States. And, if projections hold true, it is on pace to shatter the record with numbers projected between $149 billion and $150 billion. That will give the U.S. a $30 billion trade surplus.

Scuse ticked off products. Beef, dairy, pork, and poultry: All are at or near record export levels.

The Foreign Ag Service, with embassies throughout the world, fights to preserve markets, opens new markets, and gets those products released.

“As South Dakota Ag Secretary Lentsch learned from the time he’s spent in China, these countries are watching their middle-income economy continue to grow,” Scuse said. “The demand is extremely strong, and they are looking for feed supplies.”

Scuse noted that technical teams were in the United States in the last week in preparation to open the Chinese market for U.S. beef.

Two trade pacts important to agriculture are being formulated:

• Trans-Pacific Partnership: Trade negotiations continue with Japan; Scuse said sometimes it is tough to work out differences. He said they hope to complete the document this year, which would open up a whole host of products for export.

• Transatlantic Trade and Investor Partnership: Negotiations have started with the 28 European nations. The trade with Europe has been fairly stagnant. Upon completion, the agreement will expand the market for ag products.

The Farm Bill delivers almost a trillion dollars to farmers and ranchers. With provisions spelled out on 900-plus pages, Scuse and his staff are trying to get everything in place to implement the procedures.

“Through the good, the bad and the ugly, Congress bridged gaps to get the bill passed,” Scuse said. “USDA is keeping its commitment to rural America, for all farmers and ranchers.”

Scuse said he’s leading a systematic implementation of the bill through the FSA, making recommendations to Secretary Vilsack about what needs to be done to avoid surprises. Academic institutions and extension services have been allocated $6 million to help farmers and ranchers understand the information.

“We’re going to do our very best to make sure you have what you need, so others in the world can sample the very best products of the very best farmers and ranchers to be found in the world,” Scuse said.