USDA on Tuesday released a proposed rule to alter the definition of "actively engaged" farmers and limit farm payments to non-farmers, consistent with requirements Congress mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The "actively engaged" proposed rule limits farm payments to individuals who may be designated as farm managers, but are not actively engaged in farm management.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress gave USDA the authority to address this definition for joint ventures and general partnerships, while exempting family farm operations from being impacted by the new rule USDA ultimately implements.
"We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help. So we've taken the steps to do that, to the extent that the farm bill allows," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency statement.
"The farm bill gave USDA the authority to limit farm program payments to individuals who are not actively engaged in the management of the farming operation on non-family farms. This helps close a loophole that has been taken advantage of by some larger joint ventures and general partnerships," he said.
The current definition of "actively engaged" for managers, established in 1987, allows individuals with little to no contributions to critical farm management decisions to receive safety net payments if they are classified as farm managers, USDA said. For some operations, there were an unlimited number of managers that could receive payments.
Under the new proposed rule, non-family joint ventures and general partnerships must document that their managers are making significant contributions to the farming operation, defined as 500 hours of substantial management work per year, or 25% of the critical management time necessary for the success of the farming operation.
Many operations will be limited to only one manager who can receive a safety-net payment. Operators that can demonstrate they are large and complex could be allowed payments for up to three managers only if they can show all three are actively and substantially engaged in farm operations.
The changes specified in the rule would apply to payment eligibility for 2016 and subsequent crop years for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage Programs, loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains realized via the Marketing Assistance Loan program.
As mandated by Congress, family farms will not be impacted. There will also be no change to existing rules for contributions to land, capital, equipment, or labor. Only non-family farm general partnerships or joint ventures comprised of more than one member will be impacted by this proposed rule.
Stakeholders interested in commenting on the proposed definition and changes are encouraged to provide written comments at www.regulations.gov by May 26, 2015.