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Public Statements

Letter to The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture

FARM-STATE SENATORS TO USDA: IMPLEMENT PAYMENT LIMIT RULES AS INTENDED BY CONGRESS

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ranking Republican Member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support, and others today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting the Department to implement the rules and regulations pertaining to new Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and payment limit reforms to accurately reflect Congressional intent.

The Senators said in the letter that the interim rule, as published on December 29, 2008, strays from congressional intent and could adversely affect American producers and farm operations throughout the country. They also reminded the Department that the 2008 farm bill does not require any changes in the way individuals or entities are determined to be "actively-engaged" in farming. Additionally, the Senators added that interjecting unnecessary changes will not only cause further confusion but also go well beyond the congressional intent.

The USDA has extended the comment period for this interim rule for 60 days, which was originally set to end on January 28, 2009. The extended comment period still provides USDA with adequate time to make changes to the interim rule for the 2009 crop year. The deadline to sign up for the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program (DCP) and Average Crop Revenue Program (ACRE) is June 1, 2009.

Text of the letter is below:

February 9, 2009

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. Secretary:

On December 29, 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an interim rule in the Federal Register (Volume 74, Number 249, Page 79287) to implement the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 farm bill) farm program payment limitation and eligibility provisions for the 2009 and subsequent crop years. Congress required an interim rule procedure regarding these provisions in order to afford producers affected by the rule, and the Members of Congress that represent them, the opportunity to provide constructive feedback on the rule to assist USDA in its efforts to ensure the final rule accurately reflects Congressional intent.

Overall, the interim rule reflects the significant changes to farm program payment limitation and payment eligibility that were included in the 2008 farm bill. However, the interim rule strays beyond Congressional intent and the statute in several areas that have the potential to adversely affect producers and farm operations from coast to coast. Although the 2008 farm bill contained significant reform with the elimination of the three-entity rule, direct attribution, and stricter adjusted gross income tests, we would particularly note that the statutory language did not require or direct USDA to make any changes to the "actively-engaged" determination for individuals and entities in farming except in the case of a spouse. The 2008 farm bill eliminated the discrimination against spouses being considered as equal farming partners. Unfortunately instead of clarifying the law, it appears the interim rule makes significant changes that do not follow the statute to "actively-engaged" determinations and other critical eligibility requirements. These unnecessary changes generate more legal questions and confusion regarding "actively-engaged" and we ask that those changes be withdrawn or clarified in a timely manner.

In your confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry you stated, "USDA's job is to implement that far ranging piece of legislation (2008 farm bill) promptly and consistent with Congressional intent." The narrow crafting of the farm program payment limitation and eligibility provisions in the 2008 farm bill is a strong indication of areas where Congress desired that consistency with existing rules and regulations established under the 2002 farm bill be maintained.

Producers across this country are in the process of making decisions for the 2009 crop year and the interjection of unwarranted changes to the farm program payment limitation and payment eligibility final rule will only result in uncertainty and confusion to all of our producers. We request that you follow through on your statement in regard to this rule as well as other farm bill provisions awaiting implementation.

Congratulations on your recent confirmation and please know that we look forward to working with you on this issue as well as many others in the future. We appreciate your favorable consideration of our request. Please keep us informed with the development of this final rule.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
U.S. Senator Christopher Bond (R-Mo.)
U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)
U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)
U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-Fla.)
U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
U.S. Senator James Risch (R-Idaho)
U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.)
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)


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