Update on conservation compliance rules

Update on conservation compliance rules

Soil conservation provisions in the USDA farm program are now tied to crop insurance.

FAQ: We've heard about the new farm programs created by the 2014 Farm Bill: ARC, PLC, SCO, etc. What about the new rules for soil conservation compliance? There are increased erosion control responsibilities for farmers and landowners that go into effect in 2015. Please explain.

Answer: Wallaces Farmer asked John Whitaker, state executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Iowa, to answer the following commonly asked questions about conservation compliance.

DON'T LOSE YOUR BENEFITS: Complying with new rules in 2014 Farm Bill regarding highly erodible land and wetlands is required for producers to be eligible for subsidized crop insurance premiums.

If you don't control soil loss, if you don't get it down to allowable limits on highly erodible land (HEL), then you won't be eligible to participate in any USDA farm programs. That was true in the previous farm bill, too. But with this new 2014 Farm Bill, you'll also lose your crop insurance subsidy if you are found by FSA to be out of compliance. Thus, if you are found to be out of compliance in 2015, you will lose your crop insurance subsidy benefit beginning with 2016 crop year.

NOTE: Keep in mind this is not only about erosion control on HEL land. You also need to comply with the new conservation rules on wetland conversion, says Whitaker. Also, understand that if you violate any of the conservation compliance rules, you will still be able to obtain crop insurance. But you'll have to pay the full price for it; you won't be eligible to receive the USDA subsidized rate.

In addition, keep in mind that this applies to the entire farm; it's not just the HEL field. You would lose your crop insurance subsidy benefit for the entire farm.

Think before you pull tillage tool into a field
"As farmers prepare for the 2015 crop year and spring planting, they should work with their local FSA office to ensure they are in compliance and remain in compliance with the HEL and WC provisions before heading to the field," says Whitaker. "This means having a current, complete and accurate certification of compliance, form AD-1026, on file with our office."

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Following are Whitaker's answers to some conservation compliance questions farmers are asking.

Question: What are the new rules in the 2014 Farm Bill that address soil erosion, wetland conversion?
Answer:
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) has some new amendments to the conservation compliance provisions of previous farm bills that farmers need to understand and be aware of, which address soil erosion and wetland conversion. The Food Security Act of 1985 (1985 Farm Bill) first introduced the conservation provisions, tying soil erosion control on highly erodible land to eligibility for farm program participation. The 1985 Farm Bill also introduced rules on wetland conversion, tying that to eligibility for farmers to participate in USDA farm programs.

The 2014 Farm Bill continues these conservation requirements, but adds some amendments to include linkage to eligibility for crop insurance premium support paid through the federal crop insurance program. Thus, eligibility for farm program participation as well as eligibility to receive reduced crop insurance premiums are both now tied to the soil erosion (Highly Erodible Land Conservation or HELC) provision, and the wetland conversion (Wetland Conservation or WC) provision.

Question: What is the purpose of conservation compliance: the HELC and WC provisions?

Answer: The purposes for HELC and WC compliance provisions are to:

• Reduce soil loss due to erosion.

• Protect the nation's long-term ability to produce food and fiber.

• Reduce sedimentation and improve water quality.

• Assist in preserving the values, acres and functions of the nation's wetlands.

Question: Who is subject to conservation compliance provisions and therefore required to have a form AD-1026 on file with FSA?

Answer: All persons seeking benefits under most programs administered by FSA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and all persons seeking premium support paid by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) are subject to conservation compliance provisions. Additionally, any person who has a separate farming interest must also complete, sign and file an AD-1026 form.

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If you previously filed an AD-1026, it remains in effect and a new form does not need to be filed unless you are planning new conversion activities that have not been evaluated; and as long as you are not currently in violation of any claims made on the previously filed AD-1026.

Question: Do I need a completed certification of compliance (form AD-1026) filed with FSA to be eligible for premium support on my crop insurance policies?

Answer: Yes, producers must sign and file for AD-1026 with FSA by June 1, 2015 for the 2016 reinsurance year (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016). Any person who does not have form AD-1026 on file with FSA on or before June 1, 2015 can obtain crop insurance but will be responsible for the full premium amount for all insurance policies and plans obtained for the 2016 reinsurance year.

There is an important wetland conversion exemption: Eligibility for federal crop insurance premium support is not affected by wetland conversions that were completed, as determined by NRCS, before Feb. 7, 2014.

Also, keep in mind that only producers who grow an agricultural commodity must be in compliance with HELC and WC provisions.

Question: For the purpose of conservation compliance, what is considered an agricultural commodity?
Answer:
An ag commodity is defined as a crop that's planted and produced by annual tilling of the soil, and this also includes no-till farming techniques. Producers of perennial crops should be cautioned that wetland conversion provisions place important restrictions on the future use of the land if a producer ever decides to remove the perennial crop, thereby "making the production of a commodity crop possible."

Question: By completing and submitting the AD-1026 form, what am I certifying?
Answer:
By signing the AD-1026 form, you agree to all of the following on all land in which you and any affiliated person has an interest.

• NOT to plant or produce an agricultural commodity on highly erodible land or fields unless being farmed in accordance with a conservation plan approved by NRCS

• NOT to plant or produce an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland

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• NOT to convert a wetland by draining, dredging, filling, leveling, remove woody vegetation or any other activity that results in impairing or reducing the flow and circulation of water in a way that would allow the planting of an agricultural commodity

• NOT to use proceeds from any FSA farm loan, direct or guaranteed, or any USDA cost-share program in such a way that might result in negative impacts to a wetland, except for those projects evaluated and approved by NRCS.

Question: Conservation compliance (HELC and WC) provisions are new to me. What should I do?
Answer:
Persons new to conservation compliance need to visit their local USDA Service Center to request, if needed, highly erodible land and wetland determinations. The new farm bill requires USDA to provide priority technical assistance to, "producers new to compliance."

More information on the HELC and WC provisions, and form AD-1026 and other FSA commodity, conservation, disaster and loan programs can be found at fsa.usda.gov. There are also some other important resource websites:

• For HELC and WC determinations and inquiries visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, site.

• For federal crop insurance inquiries go to the Risk Management Agency, or RMA, site.

As a reminder, FSA recommends producers subscribe to GovDelivery which is FSA's online news source. Producers can self-subscribe at fsa.usda.gov/subscribe or our service center staff will assist you in subscribing when you visit your local FSA office. Monthly updates and related announcements will be electronically delivered to you via email for 24/7 access to the latest farm bill information.

TAGS: USDA
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