The Planted Row: The government lends a helping hand

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Farm Forum

This week has been a special one for my family. As of this writing, my younger sister Kathy has spent her first week as a farmer. She quit her office job and went into a partnership with my father. While their farm has row crops, they also have a commercial vegetable operation, which is quite labor intensive. That will be Kathy’s primary concern, so I called her and asked her how she was handling the workload. She said, “The labor is enjoyable. My old office didn’t even have a window. I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would.”

I am happy she has a positive outlook, and I am proud that she is carrying the torch as the next generation of Wise Family farmers. She has signed up for a fulfilling career, but I know she is going to need a lot of help to make that happen.

As of this week, some of that help is now available. According to a news release, the USDA has implemented “new Farm Bill measures and other policy changes to improve the financial security of new and beginning farmers and ranchers.” Some of these changes include:

• Waiving service fees for new and beginning farmers or ranchers to enroll in the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for the 2014 crop year.

• Eliminating payment reductions under the Conservation Reserve Program for new and beginning farmers which will allow grazing outside the primary nesting season on enrolled land consistent with approved conservation plans.

• Allowing beginning farmers and ranchers to claim up 90 percent of losses for lost livestock under the Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

More program changes to help new farmers will be announced in the near future, so stay tuned.

The USDA also launched a new website, www.usda.gov/newfarmers, where beginning farmers and ranchers can explore a variety tools and initiatives designed to help them. If you’re trying to get a new farm off the ground, you owe it to yourself to visit this website and see what kind of help you can receive.

Eyes always on the sky

By now I’m sure readers are aware of the outbreak of tornadoes in South Dakota on June 18, the most damaging of which was the tornado that struck Wessington Springs. It was rated an EF-2. According to initial reports 23 houses in the town are now uninhabitable, and 20 more sustained damage. Five businesses were destroyed, and five more were damaged.

Reports indicate that no one was killed in the storm, and only one person was injured. The lack of storm-related deaths can probably be credited to a 20-minute lead time given to the town by a National Weather Service (NWS) tornado warning. When it comes to tornadoes, a 20-minute warning is a big deal.

In full disclosure, my wife is a senior forecaster for the NWS in Aberdeen. This allows me to see firsthand what these often unsung heroes do for all of us. NWS employees are monitoring your weather 24 hours a day, every day of the year. When you’re grilling hot dogs on July 4, they’re keeping an eye on the radar. When you’re sleeping, they’re looking at satellite images. When a dangerous storm is on the way, they’re the people who sound the warning and let us know to stop what we’re doing and seek shelter.

Farmers know the value of a good forecast when it comes to planning their activities, and many local meteorologists provide excellent weather information. However, the NWS is the only agency that can issue an official storm warning. We all like to make jokes about how often the weatherman is wrong, but on June 18, the National Weather Service got it right and saved people’s lives. If you happen to meet any NWS employees, you might give them a tip of the hat.