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Scuse: New computer system will speed up farm bill implementation

By JERRY HAGSTROM

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The new computer system at the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency will permit USDA to implement the next farm bill much faster than previous bills, Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse said here Wednesday as he called on Congress to finish the new bill before September 30.

One reason that House Republicans have given for extending the 2008 farm bill for another year rather than passing a new five-year bill is that USDA will not be able to implement the bill before farmers make plans for the 2013 crop year and start planting.

But Scuse told the American Sugar Alliance meeting here that FSA’s new computer system, known as MIDAS, will be tested in December and will “go live” in January.

“The MIDAS project will allow us to speed up the process and the time it takes us to implement the new programs,” Scuse said. Work that has previously taken weeks and months we can be done in a matter of days, he said.

MIDAS stands for Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agriculture Systems. (See link below)

Writing the new rules can be done “in a very short period of time” and the bill can be implemented in “a reasonable amount of time,” Scuse said. A new acreage crop reporting streamlining initiative known as ACCURACY, under which farmers will need to report acreage only once and it will be shared with several USDA agencies, will also improve implementation of the new programs, he said.

The rules for the disaster programs in the Senate version of the bill are already in place because those programs were in the 2008 farm bill, Scuse added.

“Congress has responsibility to enact a farm bill in a timely fashion,” Scuse said.

The Senate, he said, showed particular skill, “in assembling the coalitions of competing interest, in a bipartisan fashion, that was necessary in getting a farm bill done.”

“That is the kind of leadership that benefits this country because leadership doesn’t mean you block things from happening, it means you have a plan and you get it done,” he said.

Scuse said the Obama administration is taking all the actions it can to help farmers and ranchers in the drought, but cannot provide aid to livestock producers because those disaster programs have expired

“We’ve used all the tools in our tool box,” Scuse said. “Now it is time for Congress to use their tools. We need that farm bill, which has been stalled for the past eight weeks, moving forward.”

The bill should be passed by September 30, he said, so that farmers can get drought aid quicker and because a delay could result in an erosion of the baseline that determines how much money is available for farm bill programs.

Scuse also endorsed reauthorization of the current sugar program, which operates at no cost to the taxpayers. Sweetener users have urged Congress to soften the provisions on the grounds that the program raises the cost of sugar to industrial users, but Scuse said his attitude about that program is that it works, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Scuse also said that he does not view farm programs as subsidizing the American farmer. Because U.S. food costs are lower than in many other countries as a percentage of people’s budgets, he said, “I look at it that we are subsidizing the American consumer.”