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Note: This topic page may contain material that has not yet been updated to reflect the new Farm Act, signed into law on February 7. ERS has published highlights and some implications of the Act’s new programs and provisions.  Sign up for the ERS Farm Bill e-newsletter to receive notices of topic page updates and other new Farm Bill-related materials on the ERS website.

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Act) provides soybean, other oilseed (sunflowerseed, canola, rapeseed, safflower, mustard seed, flaxseed, crambe, and sesame), and peanut producers access to marketing loan benefits, direct payments (DPs), counter-cyclical payments (CCPs), and average crop revenue election (ACRE) payments. In addition, many producers may benefit from subsidized crop and revenue insurance available under previous legislation, as well as from new permanent disaster assistance. Moreover, oilseed producers are affected by conservation and trade programs.

Under the 2008 Farm Act, program participants are given almost complete flexibility in deciding which crops to plant. Farmers are permitted to plant all cropland acreage on the farm to any crop, with some limitations on planting fruits and vegetables on acreage eligible for DPs and CCPs. Eligibility for DPs and CCPs is based on historical production parameters, and no commodity production is required to receive payments, but the land must be kept in agricultural use (which includes fallow). Participants in all programs must comply with certain conservation and wetland provisions.

General information follows on government programs affecting soybean and other oilseed producers' management decisions and incomes. 

Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments

The 2008 Farm Act extends nonrecourse commodity loans with marketing loan provisions for crop years 2008-12. All current soybean, other oilseed, and peanut production is eligible for the program. National loan rates are set in the legislation.

National Loan Rates
CommodityCrop years
Soybeans   $5.00/bushel     $5.00/bushel  
Other oilseeds   $9.30/hundredweight (cwt)     $10.09/cwt  
Peanuts   $355/ton     $355/ton  

The marketing assistance loan program is designed to provide short-term financing in all price environments, as well as to assist producers when market prices are low. Because the loans are nonrecourse, producers may forfeit the crop rather than pay back the loan if prices fall below the loan rate plus interest.

To avoid forfeitures, the marketing loan provisions allow producers to repay commodity loans at a rate less than the original loan rate plus interest when posted county prices (PCPs) are below commodity loan rates plus interest. USDA operates the program in this manner to minimize potential commodity loan forfeitures and subsequent government accumulation of stocks. When producers repay their nonrecourse commodity loans to USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) at a rate less than the loan rate, the difference between the two rates is called a marketing loan gain (MLG) and represents a program benefit to producers. In addition, any accrued interest on the loan is waived.

Producers are also offered the opportunity to receive an equivalent benefit in the form of a loan deficiency payment (LDP) if they choose not to participate in the loan program. In this case, the producer can opt to receive a one-time payment on harvested production at any time PCPs are below commodity loan rates during the term of the loan. The difference between the PCP and the loan rate is the LDP rate.

Direct and Counter-Cyclical Payments

Direct and counter-cyclical payments are available to eligible landowners and producers with soybean, other oilseed, and peanut base acres who enter into an annual agreement with USDA's Farm Services Agency (FSA). Base acres and payment yield for direct and counter-cyclical payments are unchanged from the 2002 Farm Act. Payment acres for direct payments are reduced to 83.3 percent of base acres for crop years 2009-11. Payment acres for CCPs are unchanged at 85 percent of base acres.

Direct payments for crop years 2008-12 are made based on fixed rates set in the 2008 Farm Act. For producers with eligible historical soybean, other oilseed, and peanut base acreage, the amount of the direct payment equals the product of the payment rate for the specific crop, a producer's historical payment acres (85 percent of base acres in crop years 2008 and 2012 and 83.3 percent in crop years 2009-11), and a producer's historical payment yield for the farm.

For producers with eligible historical soybean, other oilseed, and peanut base acreage, counter-cyclical payments are paid whenever a commodity's target price is greater than the calculated effective price for that commodity. Target prices are specified in the 2008 Farm Act for crop years 2008-12. The effective price is equal to the sum of 1) the direct payment rate for the commodity, and 2) the higher of the national average farm price for the marketing year or the national loan rate for the commodity. The maximum CCP rates (target price minus direct payment rate minus loan rate) are shown in table 2.

 Maximum CCP Rates
SoybeansOther oilseedsPeanuts
2008-12 $0.44/bushel $0.80/cwt $36/ton
2008-09 $5.80/bushel $10.10/cwt $495/ton
2010-12 $6.00/bushel $12.68/cwt $495/ton
2008-09 $0.36/bushel $0/cwt $104/ton
2010-12 $0.56/bushel $1.79/cwt $104/ton

The payment amount equals the product of the payment rate, a producer's historical payment acres (85 percent of base acres), and a producer's historical counter-cyclical payment yield, which may differ from the DP payment yield. However, there were no counter-cyclical payments for other oilseeds (sunflowerseed, canola, rapeseed, safflower, mustard seed, flaxseed, crambe, and sesame) during crop years 2008-09. The payment rate is zero because the loan rate plus the direct payment rate for the period (equaling the effective price) equals or exceeds the target price.

Average Crop Revenue Election Program

The ACRE program is a new program in the 2008 Farm Act and is administered by FSA. Beginning with the 2009 crop year, producers of oilseeds and other crops can elect this optional, revenue-based income support program, which is an alternative to receiving CCPs.

Payment Limits

The 2008 Farm Act sets the payment limit for direct payments at $40,000 per person or legal entity and for counter-cyclical payments at $65,000. There are no longer payment limits for marketing loan benefits (MLGs and LDPs). Payments are attributed directly to individuals, with spouses potentially eligible for a full share. The three-entity rule is eliminated. Authority for commodity certificates, formerly available as an alternative to marketing loan gains when payment limits were in force, ended after the 2009 crop year.

Producers with an adjusted gross farm income of more than $750,000 (averaged over 3 years) are not eligible for direct payments, but remain eligible for other program payments. Persons or entities with average adjusted gross nonfarm income in excess of $500,000 (averaged over 3 years) are not eligible for direct and counter-cyclical payments, ACRE payments, marketing loan benefits, or disaster payments.

Crop and Revenue Insurance

Adverse weather, as well as insect and weed infestations, can reduce a farmer's yields and result in below-normal revenue in any year. Low prices can also reduce revenue. Oilseed producers can purchase crop insurance to guard against yield risk and can buy revenue insurance for protection against revenue losses regardless of the source of loss. USDA's Risk Management Agency pays a portion of producers' premium costs for insurance policies and also pays some of the delivery and administrative costs of private insurance companies that handle policy sales.

Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance, created in the 2008 Farm Act, provides disaster assistance payments to producers of eligible commodities (crops, farm-raised fish, honey, and livestock) in counties declared by the Secretary of Agriculture to be "disaster counties," including counties contiguous to disaster counties, as well as any farms with losses in normal production of more than 50 percent. 

Environment and Conservation Programs

The 2008 Farm Act expands support for conservation practices on all cultivated land (including fallow). To remain eligible for specified program benefits, farmers cropping highly erodible land are required to implement an approved conservation plan (highly erodible land conservation provisions or sodbuster) and to be in compliance with wetland conservation provisions (swampbuster).

Programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the new Conservation Stewardship Program, provide assistance on lands in production. Land retirement programs-including the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and the Wetlands Reserve Program-remove environmentally sensitive land from production and establish long-term, resource-conserving cover. The acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program is scheduled to decline from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres beginning in fiscal year 2010 under the 2008 Farm Act.

Export and Food Aid Programs

Export programs administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) help promote and facilitate purchase of U.S. oilseeds in foreign markets, primarily soybeans and soybean products. These programs include the Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102), the Market Access Program (MAP), and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD).

Export credit guarantees are designed to help foreign importers facing foreign exchange constraints and needing credit to purchase commodities. The Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102) underwrites commercial financing of U.S. agricultural exports by guaranteeing repayment of private, short-term credit for up to 3 years. The CCC does not provide financing but guarantees payments due from foreign banks, which allows U.S. financial institutions to offer competitive credit terms to foreign banks.

The Market Access Program (MAP) aids in the creation, expansion, and maintenance of foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. MAP forms partnerships between USDA's CCC and nonprofit trade associations, cooperatives, trade groups, or small businesses to share the cost of overseas marketing and promotional activities. MAP partially reimburses program participants for these activities, which include consumer promotions, market research, trade shows, and trade servicing.

The Foreign Market Development Program, also known as the Cooperator Program, aids in the creation, expansion, and maintenance of long-term export markets for U.S. agricultural products. The program enlists private sector involvement and resources in coordinated efforts to promote U.S. products to foreign importers and consumers around the world. CCC funds are used to partially reimburse cooperators conducting approved overseas promotion activities.

The U.S. Government provides food aid overseas through the Food for Peace Act (FPA) (formerly referred to P.L. 480), Section 416, and the Food for Progress Act (FFP). Under P.L. 480 Title I, USDA makes concessional sales that provide low-interest loans to qualified developing countries purchasing U.S. commodities. Generally, commodities shipped under Title I are purchased on the open market by the recipient country. The Title II program, administered by USAID, donates commodities to least developed countries. The Section 416(b) program provides for donations of CCC-owned surplus commodities to developing countries. It also allows surplus CCC commodities to be used for the purpose of P.L. 480 Title II programs and the FFP program.

Quality Incentive Payments for Covered Oilseed Producers

Funds are authorized for fiscal years 2009-12, subject to appropriations, to provide quality incentive payments for production of oilseeds with specialized traits that enhance human health.

Biodiesel Policy

Aside from funding a Biodiesel Fuel Education Program, the 2008 Farm Act has few policy measures regarding biodiesel. Major policy goals for biodiesel are guided by a combination of Federal and State tax credits, mandated use, and procurement preferences. Beginning January 2005, tax legislation encouraged a significant expansion in the U.S. production capacity and output of biodiesel. The law made available to blenders of biodiesel a tax credit equal to $1 per gallon. Soybean oil is the primary raw material used in U.S. biodiesel production, although inedible tallow is of growing importance.

Updating the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 revised the Renewable Fuel Standard to include a separate requirement for biodiesel. Pending rule-making by the Environmental Protection Agency, this national mandate for biodiesel starts at 500 million gallons for 2009 and increases to 1 billion gallons by 2012.

In 2008, a new law extended the blending credit through the end of 2009. The legislation also provided that biodiesel produced from all feedstocks, including recycled cooking oils, qualified for the $1-per-gallon blending credit. And, it prohibited biodiesel produced and used outside of the United States from qualifying for the blending credit. In 2010, the biodiesel blending credit lapsed but was retroactively renewed for 2011. The blending credit expired as of December 31, 2011 and has not been reinstated.

Last updated: Thursday, June 04, 2015

For more information contact: Mark Ash