John Whitaker, state executive director of USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Iowa, reminds landowners and farm operators that in order to receive farm program payments from USDA, compliance with Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland Conservation (WC) provisions is required.
"High grain prices have caused many farm operators to break out new land, clear trees, and other activities to bring land into crop production, including what was Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage," says Whitaker. "Producers should have these areas reviewed by FSA to ensure any work will not jeopardize your eligibility for farm program benefits now or in the future."
Farmers with HEL determined soils are reminded to follow tillage, crop residue, and rotation requirements as specified in their conservation system plan. Producers should notify FSA prior to conducting land clearing or drainage projects to ensure compliance.
Clearing a fence row or converting pasture into cropland can cause problems
Landowners and operators can complete form AD-1026 "Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) Certification" to determine whether a referral to the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office is necessary. "Something as simple as clearing a fence row or converting a pasture into cropland could result in losing USDA benefits," adds Whitaker.
Persons who produce an agricultural commodity on a field(s) where highly erodible land is predominate, are ineligible for benefits under the Highly Erodible Land Provisions (HELC) unless it has been determined by NRCS that a conservation system is being actively applied. This conservation system must be adequate for highly erodible land and will be based on the local NRCS technical guide.
Under the Wetland Conservation (WC) Provisions, persons are ineligible for benefits if they plant an agricultural commodity on a wetland that was converted after December 23, 1985; or if they convert a wetland after November 28, 1990, by draining dredging, filing, leveling or any other means for the purpose, or to have the effect, of making the production of an agricultural commodity possible.
Be especially careful about bringing former CRP acres back into crop production
Much of the acreage that has been offered into CRP was eligible because the land was highly erodible, notes Whitaker. Producers should review their conservation plan or discuss their conservation systems with NRCS before former CRP acreage is converted back to agricultural production. If planting or field tillage has encroached into the boundaries of the CRP acreage, the contract is in non-compliance status and subject to termination or penalty.
For more information on Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions, contact your local FSA office or visit FSA on-line at www.fsa.usda.gov.