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Conservation Compliance Fine Print

As corn planting winds down, we’re rushing toward a key deadline for making sure you can buy subsidized crop insurance next year. By June 1, a small number of farmers who aren’t getting USDA commodity programs now will have to certify that they meet conservation compliance requirements in order to buy subsidized crop insurance in 2016.

It really is relatively simple for those farmers who don’t farm highly erodible land (HEL) and haven’t converted wetlands to crops after February 7, 2014 (the day President Barack Obama signed the farm bill into law). 

Just visit your local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office, ask for form AD-1026, put down your name and tax ID number, and check one box—5B. Sign and date the form, and you’re good to go. You’ll be able to buy crop insurance next year with subsidized premiums just as you always have.

If you can’t honestly say you don’t farm an HEL field or wetlands, or if you’re not sure, then it’s a bit more complicated.  

If you’re not certain, the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service likely can tell you if your land has HEL fields or wetlands. 

“A lot of the determinations were made in the late 1980s,” said Paul Miller, district conservationist for the NRCS in Polk County, Iowa. 

And, in most cases, the NRCS office will be in the same USDA service center building as FSA.

If you fill out form AD-1026 indicating that you farm highly erodible land or wetlands, FSA will notify the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, and you’ll be eligible for subsidized crop insurance in 2016, said Kevin McClure, a chief program specialist at the Iowa FSA office. A notice sent to FSA offices last month tells them that if producers who check “yes” on any questions about HEL or wetlands violations, “this does NOT prevent the producer from being entered as “Certified” for AD-1026. 

McClure said that some county offices have called him after producers not in compliance said all they had to do is fill out AD-1026. That’s definitely not the case.

“They do need to follow HEL and Wetlands compliance, starting in 2016,” McClure told

Filling out the form keeps you eligible for less costly subsidized crop insurance next year, but it also starts the process rolling to meet conservation rules.

FSA will ask NRCS to check to see if that farm meets conservation compliance rules. If NRCS says it doesn’t, the farmer can appeal, a process that McClure says can take about a year if it goes to the county, state, and National Appeals Division of USDA. 

Farmers with HEL who’ve never gotten benefits from other USDA commodity or conservation programs have the longest time to develop and follow an NRCS-approved conservation plan — five “reinsurance years” that start on July 1, according to Jonathan Coppess, an attorney who specializes in the 2014 farm law for the University of Illinois agricultural economics department.

Those who dropped out of farm programs and were subject to HEL rules before the 2014 farm bill was signed into law have only two years to comply with an NRCS HEL conservation plan.

Wetlands are treated differently. One type of exemption applies if USDA decides the wetland was converted without any intention to violate compliance rules and gives the farmer up to two years to mitigate the violation before losing crop insurance benefits. 

Coppess goes into much more detail here.  

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