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AgriTalk Transcript: Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where, in part, the discussion focused on the Farm Bill. An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of a portion of today’s discussion is available below.

Mr. Adams: And welcome back, as we broadcast today from USDA here in Washington, D.C. A little bit later we’ll talk with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but very happy to have with us right now Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. How are you?

Ms. Harden: I’m all right, Mike, thank you, and thank you for being at USDA. We’re excited to be your host.

Mr. Adams: Well, I know you’ve got a lot going on, and we’ve got a lot of areas we want to touch on, but this is a busy time, especially we’re coming down to the deadline for getting signed up in the farm bill programs. You’ve been very active with the farm bill implementation. What’s your feel overall how implementation’s been going?

Ms. Harden: Well, overall I feel really good. I think we hit the ground running. We had a lot of time to prepare, frankly, so I think our teams were ready in the field as well as here in Washington, so as soon as Congress got us a bill and the President signed it, we hit the ground.

And, you know, it started out with that disaster program. A year ago we were in the short [rows] on getting that out. The President told the Secretary get it done in 60 days, and we did. We had a really robust process that we tried to be as transparent as we could and as accountable to our stakeholders.

There were a lot of decision points, I think over 400 decision points across the department, so a lot of folks were involved. But we’ve gotten everything out. And I’m glad you mentioned the signup dates. The deadline is next Tuesday. I believe it’s the 31st.

Mr. Adams: Right.

Ms. Harden: So I’m encouraging all your listeners, if you haven’t been into our offices, please go.

Mr. Adams: We’re going to talk with the Secretary about this, but I want to get your thoughts on this because we often talk about it, deadlines don’t seem to mean much in Washington, and they get extended a lot of times. Any thoughts that this one would need to be extended past next Tuesday?

Ms. Harden: Well, you know, we’re looking at the numbers. We’re looking at how many folks, how many outstanding, where we see pockets of problems and trying to really encourage people right now to get in there. This is supposed to work for producers. We want their opinions. They have the ability this time, more than in other farm bills, to really decide what program, what policies work best for their operation, so we want them in there.

We’re encouraging. We sent out postcards, we’re having meetings, we’re working with partners, so I’m really hopeful that this deadline will hold firm. A lot of folks had to sign a register, and you know what that means. It means they’ll come in later for the face-to-face meeting. We just couldn’t handle the workload. And that deadline is actually May 15th, which is a hard deadline if we’re going to be ready for payment. So I’m hopeful that we can get this done within these time frames.

Mr. Adams: Do you monitor signup on a daily basis?

Ms. Harden: We do. The agency does, FSA does, and they give the Secretary numbers, and myself numbers, so we can see what’s happening out in the countryside. And as we get closer to the 31st, we’re seeing an uptick, as you might imagine. Folks realized they had a little extra time in part of the signup, so they’ve used that wisely, I believe. And we are seeing some of the states where we had, you know, smaller numbers even just three, four weeks ago, much better turnout, and having producers come in and talk with our staffs.

Mr. Adams: Is it where you hoped it would be or are you still lagging behind somewhat where you thought it might be?

Ms. Harden: Right now it’s a little bit better than I thought it would be. [With] still, you know, a few days to go, and I think producers will really wait till the very last minute. I think Monday and Tuesday will be very, very busy days for our field staff, but really it has improved over the last couple days and weeks. But we’re looking every day to see what’s needed. This is about giving tools to producers. We want to make sure that they take advantage of [them.]

[End of recording.]