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Time Running Out on Farm Program Sign-up

Farmers who want to take advantage of the Production Flexibility Contract better hurry.

Time is running out.

This one-time offer ends July 12.

"It's a good deal for farmers," said Bill Givan, a University of Georgia Extension Service economist.

"Congress wants to phase out farm support programs," Givan said. "In Georgia, this program is mainly for cotton, wheat and corn growers. It gives them transition payments before farm programs are phased out completely."

The seven-year contracts, authorized by the 1996 Farm Bill, begin in 1996 and end in 2002.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman stresses this is the only chance farmers get to enroll.

"There will be no additional sign-ups except for land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program," Glickman said. "This is required by the 1996 Act, and I have no discretion to extend the date."

Farmers who have planted wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton or rice in one of the past five years are eligible.

Farmers still have to comply with the conservation and wetland rules. The 1995 limits will apply to these payments. No one can get more than $40,000 in a year.

The program will allow farmers to plant as they wish -- almost. Except in certain cases, they can't plant fruits or vegetables on contract acres.

A grower may enroll all or part of the farm's contract base acreage. After he signs up, he may request a permanent acreage reduction without a penalty. Farmers can learn about payment and loan rates at their Farm Service Agency office.

While the program offers more flexibility, ending subsidies means farmers must be even more efficient.

"Technology is the driving force in what will be produced, how and when," Givan said. "It will dictate the organization and process from production inputs to the consumer. All this will occur with less government support, but with more regulation in food safety and environmental concerns."

Ag Showcase '96 will display many new technologies at at the Rural Development Center in Tifton June 29.

The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences cosponsors the one-day event with Fort Valley State College and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Hands-on exhibits will focus on the latest in modern farming.

New technology alone won't make Georgia farmers competitive as subsidies end. They'll need new markets, too.

"Growth in foreign markets will be the key determinant of agriculture's growth in the 21st century," Givan said.

The new farm bill will do much to shape farming's future.

"Farmers will be paid for products, not commodities," Givan said. Value will be added after products leave the farm.

Farmers will contract a growing share of what they produce, he said. And prices for what they don't contract will go up and down much faster.

Foreign markets will affect pricing in U.S. markets more. "And managing risk, with less price support and more environmental regulation," Givan said, "will become more a major factor in farm survival."

Under the new system, he said, farmers must cut costs, expand their share of value-added components and produce what foreign and U.S. markets demand. They must use new biotechnology and information systems, too.

The reform will greatly affect Georgia farm production and marketing. But "only time will tell," Givan said, "if agriculture improves during the next seven years."

The farm bill will affect Georgia farm cooperatives and agribusinesses, too.

"Their futures hinge," Givan said, "on how well they adapt and respond to the needs of Georgia farmers."

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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