Getting into Compliance with USDA Conservation Rules

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by Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

If you are a commodity producer, chances are you've been dealing with this issue for several years with the Farm Service Agency and compliance standards. However, conservation compliance may be a new concept facing as many as 25,000 farmers who grow specialty crops.

Other farmers facing new rules for conservation compliance would be those farmers who for one reason or another opted out of Title I farm programs, or have income too high to be part of Title I programs, but still buy crop insurance.

After a long battle, Congress recoupled conservation compliance to crop insurance as part of the 2014 farm bill. According to USDA, the expansion of conservation compliance for insurance likely adds some conservation protections to another 1.5 million acres of highly-erodible land and another 1.1 million acres of wetlands.

Last week when I was in Washington, D.C., I caught a conversation with a crop-insurance guy expressing some concerns about how farmers know they are in compliance with USDAs conservation provisions.

Farmers have to file a form, AD-1026, by June 1 to be eligible for crop-insurance premium subsidies. If a producer flat-out doesn’t want to play ball with the compliance provision, that farmer can still buy crop insurance, but there would be no premium assistance. You would pay the full premium on your own.

Effectively, when a farmer files an AD-1026, the farmer is declaring that he or she is in compliance or needs evaluation to be certain. The form states that a grower should contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office is he or she is unsure whether their farm ground is considered either highly erodible land or wetlands.

If there is any doubt over whether a piece of ground is considered either highly erodible or a wetland, FSA basically forwards that form to USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to make a call on the status of that ground. According to NRCS, “Determining whether you have highly erodible land is a simple process based on soil types. Determining whether you have wetlands on your property is a bit more complicated. A field visit may be needed to look at the soils, plants and hydrology of the site in question.”

If it's necessary, NRCS will work with farmers to develop a conservation plan to protect highly erodible fields and the conservation practices that may be needed to protect from soil erosion.

If a property has a wetlands, then that could require farming around that wetland, enrolling that area in a conservation program, or mitigating wetland losses.

One of the bigger complications on the AD-1026 is knowing what has happened to that land going back to 1985. The form asks if anyone has created new drainage systems, or leveled, filled, dredged, cleared land or excavated the ground without that land being evaluated by NRCS.

Once a producer signs and files an AD-1026 with FSA, then FSA considers that farmer in compliance. There is no notification sent from FSA on that. However, by signing the form, that gives FSA and NRCS the right to follow up and ensure that the farm is indeed in compliance. NRCS may examine whether a violation of highly-erodible lands or wetlands has occurred.

In regards to insurance, companies and agencies will have access to data on a farmer's status with an AD-1026. USDA's Risk Management Agency has sent out two letters to producers letting them know that they may not have an AD-1026 on file. That information has gone out to insurers as well.


Failure to file that AD-1026 form on time could be the biggest worry. Unless you can show this is your first year ever farming, you risk losing the premium subsidy for this crop year if you do not file the AD-1026 by June 1.

After an AD-1026 form is completed and filed with FSA, it remains in effect and does not have to be filed again unless there are changes to the operation that would affect the status of the certificate.

If you are found out of compliance with the highly-erodible land provision, do not freak out on the nearest federal employee. Under the 2014 farm bill, if NRCS rules you out of compliance because of highly-erodible land solely because of the tie to crop insurance, then you have five years to develop a conservation plan and comply with it before becoming ineligible for crop-insurance premium subsidies.

For wetland determinations, it's a little tougher. You have two years to mitigate any conversions of wetlands or other wetland violations that NRCS may find.

However, if you become ineligible because of a situation on a single piece of ground, you and other people associated with that farm could lose all of your federal benefits for all farming operations, not just the location considered in violation.

These rule preferences also only apply to newcomers filing AD-1026 forms specifically for crop-insurance program benefits. If you have been in commodity programs and collecting benefits, you fall under the old rules and could lose benefits within a year if you lose the administrative appeals.

On Wednesday, RMA issued a news release reminding growers that they need to have those AD-1026 forms on file with the local FSA office by June 1. The news release specifically highlighted nursery growers, and fruit and vegetable growers who may be new to compliance provisions.

If you have any questions, check with your local USDA Service Center.

NRCS also has created “Five Steps to Meet Conservation Compliance.” http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/…

More detailed information can be found on the Federal Register posting for conservation compliance: https://www.federalregister.gov/…

 

 

 

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