USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday said USDA is getting it right, getting it done on implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, six months after its approval.
"I would stack up what we have done in the first six months of this farm bill with any other implementation of any other farm bill in terms of the amount of work that's been done and the speed with which it's been done and the comprehensive nature in which it's been done," Vilsack said during a press call.
Among the first major farm bill initiatives to be implemented were disaster relief programs for livestock producers, many of whom have been waiting years for assistance, USDA said. The implementation timeline, when compared to the 2008 farm bill is considerably quicker, taking one year then and in 2014 taking fewer than 10 weeks.
As of July 31, 2014, approximately 165,000 claims have been processed totaling $1.85 billion disbursed through the Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, and Tree Assistance Program, USDA said.
Implementation is also underway for new safety net programs and release of the awaited actual production history information, which Vilsack expects to be ready by the 2016 crop year.
The agency caught some criticism for not having the APH provision in line to be implemented sooner, but Vilsack says it's a complex issue that USDA wants to get right.
"It's an IT challenge, it's a staffing challenge, it's about priorities," Vilsack said. "It's just a matter of trying to get the work done in an orderly and thoughtful fashion and trying to get as much done for as many people as we possibly can and I think we're accomplishing that."
In a first shot at preparing safety net options, USDA in May awarded $3 million to the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri and Texas A&M to develop online tools and outreach training that will help farmers and ranchers determine which new risk management options can best protect their businesses.
USDA also awarded $3 million to state Cooperative Extension services to provide in-person education to help producers make the most educated decisions regarding new Farm Bill programs.
Touting conservation efforts, USDA says the Regional Conservation Partnership Program , for example, has drawn an overwhelming response, with more than 600 initial proposals being submitted requesting more than six times the $394 million that is available in funding for the first year.
In the coming months, USDA will begin awarding funding for RCPP projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA's $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners, for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation, the agency said.
Additionally, USDA recently incorporated the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and announced the appointment of a 15-member board of directors.
The new foundation will leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to boosting America's agricultural economy, USDA said.
For a detailed list of implementation efforts by title, visit the USDA website.