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Market Facilitation Program update: Alfalfa-mix acreage doesn’t qualify for payments

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 14 October 2019

The USDA has clarified that acreage seeded to alfalfa-and-grass-mixture forage crops is not eligible for federal payments under the Market Facilitation Program (MFP).

The MFP is part of the 2019 Trade Mitigation Program (TMP), a $16 billion, three-pronged federal package designed to offset the negative financial impacts suffered by U.S. farmers due to ongoing trade and tariff wars. Of that total, $14.5 billion was designated for direct MFP payments to specialty and non-specialty crop producers, dairy and hog farmers.

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In rolling out 2019 MFP program guidelines in late July, the USDA expanded payment-eligible crops from a similar program in 2018. In addition to corn and soybeans, the list of non-specialty crops eligible for 2019 MFP payments included alfalfa hay, triticale and 23 others.

In recent years, U.S. hay producers annually export about 2.5 million metric tons of alfalfa hay and about 1.5 million metric tons of “other” hay. China – the epicenter for U.S. trade disputes – has become the leading export market for U.S. alfalfa hay, a fact recognized by the USDA when evaluating crops affected by tariffs.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded the scope of eligible commodities from the assistance provided in 2018 to include all of the Farm Bill commodity ‘title-eligible’ commodities, in addition to several others that were directly affected by unjustified retaliatory tariffs like alfalfa,” a USDA spokesperson said.

Another change in the 2019 program was that payments for MFP-eligible crops were not based on flat payments for each crop, but rather on an acreage rate calculated for each individual county, regardless of the crop planted.

However, when farmers applied for MFP this summer, some were denied payments on alfalfa-mix forage acreage by state USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) officials. Several shared their disappointment with Progressive Dairy and Progressive Forage in recent months.

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In comments released on Oct. 11, USDA defined MFP eligibility levels for forage crops. Because alfalfa-mixture crops are generally fed to livestock in the U.S. and not exported, they “are deemed ineligible for the 2019 MFP,” the USDA spokesperson said.

“Premium hay that includes alfalfa is internationally marketed and has been determined to be adversely impacted by trade tariffs,” the spokesperson continued. “Forage mixtures that includes but is not limited to alfalfa-grass or legume mixtures below 60 percent seeded to alfalfa and/or small grain mixtures (triticale or other small grain mixes) are not typically internationally marketed and as a result are ineligible.”

MFP enrollment deadline is Dec. 6

The MFP signup period runs through Dec. 6, 2019, at FSA offices. For non-specialty crops that qualify, per-acre payment rates for all counties are available on the USDA’s MFP website.

If all three payments are made, dairy farmers are also eligible to receive 20 cents per hundredweight on their annual milk production history.

MFP payments are to be distributed in three “tranches.” All farmers who already enrolled have likely received the first payment – equal to 50% of their maximum eligible payment.

The USDA is evaluating remaining payments based on ongoing trade agreement negotiations and market conditions. If second and third tranches are warranted, they will be made in November 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Those payments will each equal 25% of a producer’s calculated total payment.

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For information on hay exports, read: Forage Market Insights: Fourth-quarter push

Read also: Dairy farmers to receive 20 cents per cwt under Market Facilitation Program  end mark

Dave Natzke
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