When writing the story in late May for the newest version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program, I kept searching for further specifics, primarily some sort of payment formula. There were none to be found.
USDA said there would be no payment specifics, only that it would be per acre based on county production. The reason? They didn’t want to sway planting decisions by saying, for example, soybeans would receive so much more than the other crops as happened in the 2018 MFT.
That does make sense, and we also know from history how ramping up production for one specific crop can have miserable implications on prices later as supplies far outpace demand. Think all of the corn-on-corn after the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2005.
I heard an interesting story at a recent meeting in Bloomington, Illinois, that helped make sense of the newest MFP and its mysteries in terms of specifics.
It appears USDA was not ready for a tweet. Yes, we’ve reached that point where policies that impact each of us in our daily lives are moved by Twitter.
Adam Nielsen, Illinois Farm Bureau director of national legislation and policy development, described the road that led to MFT 2.0 at that meeting last month.
USDA Secretary Sunny Perdue indicated last November during a stop in Illinois that there wasn’t going to be another MFP.
“Perdue said, ‘Last year, you didn’t know what was coming. This year, you plant with full knowledge of the current trade situation,’” Nielsen said.
“He was very certain in that statement, and until a few weeks ago, we had no idea there was going to be doing a Market Facilitation Program. There was some indication in the ag media. Just days before the China deal blew up, Vice President Pence was in Minnesota putting out the word that there would be another round of MFP, but he did not share any specifics. He did not want to talk about the details.
“After the China talks broke down, President Trump tweeted on May 10, ‘If we bought $15 billion of agriculture from our farmers, far more than China buys now, we would have more than $85 billion left over for new infrastructure, healthcare, or anything else. China would slow down, and we would automatically speed up.’
“He talked about getting that money from tariffs that were being imposed from Chinese imports, and there would be plenty of money left over for infrastructure. That was the first public indication that there would be a Market Facilitation Program and that $15 billion was in the ballpark — $14.5 billion for the MFP.
“It wasn’t long after that the details for the Market Facilitation Program started dribbling out. I don’t think the USDA was prepared for the president’s tweet, not prepared to go down this road at this time again because the more information that was available about the Market Facilitation Program, the more likely it was going to influence planting decisions.
“That’s the last thing they wanted to do. Last year was nice and neat. We planted the crop, and they developed the program.
“There were leaks. We heard about $2 a bushel for soybeans, 4 cents for corn. The Corn Growers put out an action request encouraging the USDA and the president to increase that amount to a much higher level.
“There were a lot of denials of these rates, but my sense was that they were accurate and the announcement was hastily put together. We didn’t get all of the information, but we got some, and the secretary did not want the program to influence planting decisions.”
So, there it is. That’s how our federal government now operates.