The veteran Farm Service Agency employee knows he is taking over the top job at a time of big changes, as the USDA rolls out new and revised programs for agricultural producers.
"Clearly implementation will be job one," says Val Dolcini, who last week was named Farm Service Agency Administrator, where he will oversee emergency lending programs for farmers and ranchers in disaster-stricken areas, voluntary conservation programs, and, among other things, the new Agricultural Risk Coverage, Price Loss Coverage, and Dairy Margin Protection program. "This is an important time for the Farm Bill."
He comes to Washington from California, where he served as the FSA’s state executive director for five years, overseeing the agency’s efforts in a state with more than 80,000 farms and ranches. Dairy producers alone generated $6.9 billion in milk production in 2012 for California. But it’s also known for fruits, vegetables, and other crops. Overall, California produces more than 350 commodities, resulting in nearly $45 billion in agricultural products, according to USDA-NASS.
"Our agriculture is quite different from a lot of states," Dolcini, 51, acknowledges. "But given California’s agricultural diversity and the diversity of the workforce, I think it has given me a good taste" of the variety of producers and issues that await him in his new job.
He’s also familiar with state and national politics. In addition to serving as interim FSA Administrator in 2011, he has worked on his home state’s gubernatorial staff and the staff of the lieutenant governor and two U.S. Representatives. A native of California Dolcini has a bachelor’s in history from San Francisco State University and a law degree from Golden Gate University School of Law.
One of the most pressing issues for Dolcini this fall will be getting FSA staff, producers, and others up to speed on ARC/PLC. "This is brand new to almost everyone on both sides of the counter," says Dolcini, who says the agency will conduct a week-long training session in Minneapolis later this month for FSA employees. It will also soon begin releasing the web-based tools that college and universities have been developing to help producers make informed decisions about their coverage options.
When will farmers need to make those decisions? Specific deadlines for enrolling in the program still have not yet been announced, but Dolcini says producers will have "plenty of time" to make their choices.
And as programs get implemented, they may change slightly along the way. Under the new Dairy Margin Protection Program, which opened this week for registration, dairy farmers currently must pay their premium in two installments, in February and June. But the agency is "taking monthly milk check deductions through the co-ops under consideration," FSA spokesman Kent Politsch. "We are open to conversations about other payment alternatives, but none will be implemented before the 2016 coverage year."