NAWG Weekly Update: May 5, 2016

NRCS, FSA Prompted to Re-Evaluate, Improve Conservation Compliance Reviews
The USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an interim audit report that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) need to improve their method for reviewing conservation compliance. In its investigation, the OIG revealed that only one FSA program, the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP), subjected its enrolled producers to random sample reviews from 2012-2014, despite the fact that all recipients of payments, loans, or other benefits from NRCS and FSA are all required to comply to the same extent as DCP participants with the highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland conservation requirements. The report also identified that in 2014, data from 10 states was omitted, with invalid results and records. With these revelations, OIG claims that the agencies cannot now verify an accurate representation of producer compliance. Following this, the OIG recommended that NRCS, FSA, and RMA establish a working solution to make the process for reviewing compliance more efficient, including creating working groups, outlining the roles of the agencies, and developing methodology for conducting reviews. Efforts are now being made to improve the review process in accordance with the findings.

Conservation Reserve Program Enrollment Exceeds 800,000 Acres
More than 800,000 acres have been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through the program’s 49th sign up period, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced. CRP allows the USDA to help farmers balance the cost of complying with conservation efforts like restoring, enhancing, and protecting certain plants that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and protect wildlife habitat. This sign up period saw record-high Environmental Benefits Index cut-off, and the lowest percentage of applications accepted, making it the most competitive selection in the history of the program. Heightened selectivity means that the per-acre conservation benefits are being maximized while addressing several conservation priorities at once. Total enrollment as of March 2016 is 23.8 million acres with 1.7 million acres set to expire on September 30. In order to participate in CRP, producers establish resource-conserving plant species to mitigate soil erosion, improve water quality, and protect wildlife habitats that are on marginally productive lands. In return, producers receive rental payments and cost-share assistance from FSA, in contracts with a duration of between 10-15 years.

NWF and NAWG Seek Stakeholder Input into National Wheat Action Plan
Farmer-leaders of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) are developing a National Wheat Action Plan to serve as the catalyst to increase public and private wheat research and to improve wheat productivity and farmer profitability. NAWG and NWF leaders believe there is more that farmers can do to turn around the U.S. wheat industry, and believe increased engagement by farmers is critical to moving forward on a new path to revitalizing the wheat industry. Together with our industry partners, we are seeking input and feedback from stakeholders across the industry as part of our research process. We invite you to complete the online survey at http://research.aimpointsurveys.com/s3/NationalWheat to provide your insights into how we can increase U.S. wheat growers’ productivity and competitiveness and overall profitability for all members of the wheat value chain. We value your input. For more information, FAQs and a list of industry partners, please visit http://wheatfoundation.org/ national-wheat-action-plan.

Annual Kansas Wheat Tour Concludes
The annual Wheat Quality Council tour of the Kansas wheat crop concluded on Thursday. With around 80 participants fanning out across the state to measure and review the wheat crop, the Wheat Quality Council ultimately estimates that the 2016 Kansas wheat crop will be 382.4 million bushels with an average yield of 48.6 bushels per acre. Last year’s tour estimated 288.5 million bushels with an average yield of 35.6 bushels per acre. The prospects for this year’s crop appear to be higher partially as a result of above average rains this spring, though there was also widespread variability in the yield estimates.

For coverage and highlights of the tour, search #wheattour16 on Twitter. This marked the 25th and final year for Ben Handcock as Executive Vice President of the Wheat Quality Council, who will be retiring later this year. NAWG wishes Handcock all the best in his retirement.

TPP Will Bring Renewed Grower Competitiveness; Urge Congress to Act Soon
With Congress out of session this week and Members back home in their Districts, it is now more important than ever for wheat growers to contact their Congressional representatives and urge them to support passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The trade agreement, which has been stalled in Congress, will bring new market access for U.S. farmers in the Asia-Pacific region by lowering burdensome tariffs which hurt U.S. competitiveness, boosting exports to regions of the world with growing middle classes, and establishing high-standard trade rules. Last month, NAWG joined a coalition of other agricultural organizations in sending a letter to the House and Senate Leadership, urging their quick action. The letter also emphasized that the longer Congress waits to take action on TPP, the more disadvantaged U.S. growers are compared to other countries in the region. With elected Representatives and Senators back in their Districts, growers should take this opportunity to interact with them about the importance of TPP for agriculture.  NAWG supports TPP and other trade deals that will sustain and improve the U.S. position in global markets and allow the U.S. to lead in wheat production and exports. With limited legislative days remaining before the end of the 114th Congress, NAWG continues to enthusiastically call for timely action by Congress, given the importance of TPP.

$15.6 Million in Grants Will Strengthen Rural Communities
The USDA have announced that $15.6 million in grants will go to rural American communities in order to increase prosperity through research, education, and extension programs. These programs, made through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will promote community development, economic growth, and sustainability in America’s rural communities, where nearly 60 million Americans live and 85 percent of persistent poverty is located. Small and Medium-sized Farms will also benefit from the grant money, which will work to educate farmers and ranchers about management strategies and new technologies that will allow them to compete and improve the viability of their small and medium-sized commodity operations. Since the AFRI program was established, funding has been at less than half of the levels established in the 2008 Farm Bill. The program supports projects that sustain and amplify activities in rural areas that protect the environment and alleviate poverty in those areas, including education on issues such as consumer behavior and market structure.