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Nearly All Farms Jump New Conservation Hurdle

USDA reported late last week that nearly all producers — 98.2% — met a 2014 Farm Bill requirement to certify that they comply with conservation rules in order to qualify for crop insurance premium subsidies in the 2016 crop year. This week, the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee may consider delaying so-called conservation compliance by another year if it follows a similar move approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee. 

Technically, the hurdle farmers just cleared meant filling out a form, AD-1026, by June 1 at Farm Service Agency offices to identify highly erodible land and wetlands farmed by those producers and whether conservation plans are in effect. Similar requirements already apply to commodity programs such as ARC (Agriculture Risk Coverage). Farmers who haven’t been in commodity programs before will have up to five years to have a plan for highly erodible land in place, and two years for wetlands.

USDA said it went “to extraordinary lengths to ensure that every impacted producer knew of the June 1, 2015, deadline to certify their conservation compliance.” All 2015 crop insurance contracts had conservation compliance notifications. USDA sent out more than 50,000 reminder letters and postcards to individual producers, made over 25,000 phone calls, and held informational meetings and training sessions for nearly 6,000 stakeholders across the country, including in major specialty crop producing states.

Of the 1.8% of producers who haven’t met the conservation compliance requirement, USDA records suggest the majority are no longer farming or may have filed forms with discrepancies that can still be reconciled.

"I've asked the agencies to contact the producers again before their [crop insurance] sales closing date," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "I want to ensure that every producer that turned in an AD-1026 by June 1, 2015, knows they can still make corrections and remain eligible for premium support."

Those who don’t meet the conservation compliance requirement could still purchase crop insurance, but at much higher premiums without any federal subsidy.

But USDA also is providing more flexibility to help the newly insured producers to certify their conservation compliance. Producers, who began farming or ranching after June 1, or producers who have not participated in USDA programs prior to June 1, can file an exemption to the conservation compliance certification for reinsurance year 2016 and still be eligible for the crop insurance premium support.

Last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a provision that would delay starting the conservation compliance requirement for another year.

Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) told Monday that, based on what he’s hearing from USDA staff, there may be only about a half-dozen producers in the country who missed the June 1 deadline for certifying compliance and don’t have a reason to justify it.

“There’s no problem here,” Hoefner said. “There’s nothing to solve.”

The NSAC also said last week that USDA agencies “have an excellent plan in place to deal with the few who may have remaining issues, and are leaning over backwards to work through cases in which there were extenuating circumstances that may have caused a farmer to miss the deadline.”   

Conservation compliance was part of a deal between conservation groups and commodity and farm groups during the drafting of the 2014 Farm Bill. The conservation groups agreed to support a farm bill that cut conservation funding and increased funding for crop insurance only if farmers getting crop insurance premium subsidies had to agree to control soil erosion and maintain wetlands. (NSAC wasn’t directly involved in the negotiations.) 

“To turn around and go back on that is just kind of mind-boggling,” Hoefner said Monday.

The new requirement doesn’t mean farmers won’t be affected, however. 

As USDA pointed out last week:

“Implementing the 2014 Farm Bill provisions for conservation compliance is expected to extend conservation provisions for an additional 1.5 million acres of highly erodible lands and 1.1 million acres of wetlands, which will reduce soil erosion, enhance water quality, and create wildlife habitat.”

Yet, with up to five years allowed in some cases, some of those changes may not be finished until the next farm bill starts. 


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