Farmers hear about changes with master settlement

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By Walt Reichert

With millions of dollars coming from the Master Settlement Agreement since 2001, local farmers have built hay storage facilities, bought better bulls, fenced cattle away from streams, added egg processing machinery, or built greenhouses.

The Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP), which oversees distribution of those funds, was in town Thursday to announce some changes, mostly minor, to the program that has brought $280 million to the state's farmers. The goal is to increase "access and accountability" to the program, representatives of GOAP told local farmers and Extension agents who gathered at county's Extension office for the regional meeting. Another goal of GOAP is "to continuously look for ways to add value to Kentucky farm products."

One change announced Thursday is cosmetic, a name change. The old "model program" terminology is out. The model programs will now be called the County Agricultural Investment Program (CAIP) and are considered "investment areas." Those investment areas include agricultural diversification, cattle genetics improvement and forage improvement and utilization.

Another change involves the makeup of the local council that accepts and ranks applications from local farmers for the fund. Beginning July 1, 2010, persons appointed to serve on county agricultural development councils will be limited to two consecutive two-year terms. A person who has served four years would be eligible to serve again after he or she has sat out for a term. GOAP has also added a requirement that at least one of the nine members appointed to the council represent a race or gender that is not represented on the council at the time of selection.

Two local council members are chosen by the Farm Service Agency, two by the Soil Conservation District and two by the County Extension Council. Those members select two young farmers, age 21-40, to serve on the council.

GOAP also announced that counties will be eligible for up to $7,500 to help with the costs of dead livestock disposal between July 1,2009 and June 30, 2010.

Other changes to the county investment program announced Thursday were:

• The addition of an on-farm energy efficiency and production investment area that will help pay for farmers' efforts to improve energy efficiency or try alternative energy technologies.

• Lack of tobacco dependency shall not cause a producer to be ineligible for funds.

• There is no longer a lifetime cost share limit.

• Cost-share funds are not available for labor, but hired labor can be paid for.

• Cost-share funds for fencing have increased from $1 per foot to $1.50 per foot.