March 2015
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

Failure to reauthorize federal program will affect school, road funding in Alabama, other states

Public school and road budgets in Alabama and most other states may take a hit this year because Congress thus far has not reauthorized a federal law passed in 2000.

USDA has announced that amounts paid to 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will drop from the more than $300 million in 2014 to $50.39 million this year. In Alabama, the cutbacks mean a loss of nearly $1.2 million – from $1.79 million last year to $589,000 this year.

A 1908 act required that 25 percent of receipts from National Forests in each state be paid to support local schools and roads, based on a 7-year rolling average of that revenue. While that measure is permanent, it was supplemented in 2000 by the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act providing larger, stabilized payments to more states. It also created a forum for community interests to participate collaboratively in the selection of natural resource projects in the National Forests, and has assisted in community wildfire protection planning.

The Obama Administration supported a 5-year reauthorization of the more recent program to transition payments to counties in the 2015 fiscal year, but Congress has not acted on it. Accordingly, payments to states revert to those called for under the 1908 law.

Multiple operators common among larger family farms

Larger farms often require more management and labor, as well as capital, farmland and other resources, than one individual can provide.

For that reason, it’s no surprise that multiple-operator farms are prevalent among large and very large family farms. Having a secondary operator also may provide a successor when an older principal operator phases out of farming.

According to the latest government figures, 38 percent of all U.S. farms were multiple-operator farms, while 73 percent of very large family farms had more than one operator.

Because farms are generally family businesses, 68 percent of all secondary operators were spouses. About 16 percent of all multiple-operator farms (and 6 percent of all farms) were multiple-generation farms, the data shows, with at least 20 years’ difference between the ages of the oldest and youngest operators.


Food spending away from home nearly matches sales at grocery stories, other retailers

Spending at grocery stores and other retailers accounted for 50.4 percent of the $1.4 trillion spent on food and beverages by U.S. consumers, businesses and government entities, according to the latest government figures.

The remaining 49.6 percent took place at restaurants, school cafeterias, food concession stands at movie theaters and recreational events, and other away-from-home eating places.

In 1960, the away-from-home market had a 26.3-percent share of total food expenditures. Except in some recession years, that share has grown steadily through the decades. Two-earner households and busier lifestyles have led consumers to spend less time cooking and seek the convenience of food prepared away from home, analysts say.

Majority of dairy farms enroll in Margin Protection Program

More than 23,000 of the nation’s dairy operations – over half of all dairy farms in America – have enrolled in the new safety-net program created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Known as the Margin Protection Program, the voluntary program provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the difference between the price of milk and feed costs falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

USDA officials said enrollment far exceeded expectations in the program’s first year and credited outreach efforts for the high-participation level.

During the three months of the enrollment period, USDA held more than 500 public meetings, sent out nearly 60,000 direct mailings and conducted more than 400 demonstrations of the web-based tool designed to help applicants calculate their specific coverage needs.

Unlike earlier dairy programs, the Margin Protection Program offers dairy producers a range of choices of protection best suited for their operation. Starting with basic coverage for an administrative fee of $100, producers can select higher levels of coverage at incremental premiums. More than half of applicants selected higher coverage beyond the basic level.

Dairy producers interested in enrolling in the Margin Protection Program for Fiscal Year 2016 can register between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2015.

Alabama conservation projects receive federal funding

Alabama is part of three projects among 115 across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that will receive more than $370 million in federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

In addition, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million more in partner contributions  for a total of nearly $800 million – to improve the nation’s water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.

Projects in which the state is involved include:

- The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Rivers Conservation Partnership, that also includes Florida and Georgia. Lead partner in the effort will be the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District. Persistent drought and long-term landscape change have reduced the capacity of the ACFR Basin to balance human use with ecological demand. The project to improve water quality and quantity in the ACFR includes more than 20 partners, ranging from private industry and large nonprofit organizations to universities and local soil and water conservation districts.

- Longleaf Pine Range. Coastal Headwaters Forest – Longleaf Conservation and Restoration. Led by The Conservation Fund, the 205,000-acre coastal headwaters project, located in Florida and Alabama, will use partnerships and resources to acquire conservation easements and restore the off-site loblolly pine to the native longleaf pine. In doing so, more than 44 at-risk species’ habitat will be enhanced and more than 150,000 acres of longleaf pine restored. Water quality and quantity to the Gulf of Mexico will be protected and at least 80 jobs retained.

- Watershed improvement. Alabama Farmers Federation will lead this program and will work to address a growing demand for water in several Alabama watersheds. Recent data shows that in some cases irrigation has increased up to 80 percent in the past few years. The goal is to work with partners to provide direct technical support and outreach to program participants to ensure future irrigation practices will be efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly. The ultimate goal is to protect, improve and enhance water quantity and water quality in the state’s watersheds.