FAQ: With strong grain prices I see many farmers bringing new land into production. What impact could there be with FSA, especially with the conservation compliance rules, if I bring new land into production?
Answer: Provided by Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist at the USDA Farm Service Agency state office in Des Moines. If you have additional questions or need more information, contact your local FSA office. Information regarding USDA farm programs is also available at www.fsa.usda.gov.
In the 1985 Farm Bill, Highly Erodible and Wetland Conservation Provisions were enacted into law. The objectives were to reduce soil loss because of wind and water erosion, protect the nation’s long-term capacity to produce food and fiber, reduce sedimentation and improve water quality, help preserve the nation’s wetlands, and remove incentive for persons to produce ag commodities on highly erodible or converted wetland. With high grain prices today, there has been in increased desire to bring new land into production.
Farmers should be aware if they use highly erodible land for crop production or convert wetlands after Nov. 28, 1990 or plant an ag commodity on a wetland that’s converted after Dec. 23, 1985 without proper conservation measures, they risk losing eligibility to receive USDA benefits.
Question: What are these provisions and what activities are restricted?
There are two parts of the conservation compliance provisions: Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) Provisions and Wetland Conservation (WC) Provisions.
Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) Provisions apply when an agricultural commodity is going to be produced on a field or fields where highly erodible land is predominant. Planting an ag commodity could make a producer ineligible for benefits under certain programs administered by USDA, unless NRCS determined the producer is actively applying an approved conservation system that is based on their local technical guide, or is using a conservation system that has been determined to be adequate for producing an agricultural commodity on highly erodible land.
Wetland Conservation (WC) Provisions can make persons ineligible for benefits under certain programs administered by USDA if they: plant an agricultural commodity on wetland that was converted after Dec. 23, 1985, and/or convert a wetland after Nov. 28, 1990, by draining, dredging, filling, leveling, or any other means for the purpose, or to have the effect, of making the production of an agricultural commodity possible.
Question: If I’m determined to be ineligible for USDA farm program benefits, are there other penalties?
Once a violation has been found, producers are ineligible to receive farm program benefits. However, program benefits can be reinstated, after assessment of a graduated payment reduction and if a Good Faith Determination is requested and approved by the FSA County Committee.
FSA must determine the person acted in good faith and without the intent to violate. Producers must show they are making a good faith effort to comply and must sign an approved conservation plan/mitigation and/or restoration plan, with NRCS. The person must agree to implement the plan within an agreed upon period, not to exceed one year.
All HELC violators granted a good faith determination are subject to a Graduated Payment Reduction (GPR). This assessment can range from $1,000 to $10,000. The GPR is increased by 20% for HELC violations on sodbusted land. Note: sodbusted land is land converted from native vegetation, such as rangeland or woodland, to crop production after Dec. 23, 1985.
Graduated Payment Reductions do not apply to WC violators, including violations for planting on a converted wetland. If it is determined wetland conservation provisions have been violated, those persons who are determined responsible for conversion of a wetland after Nov. 28, 1990, shall be ineligible for benefits for:
- The crop or program year benefits that are equal to the calendar year that NRCS determined the conversion occurred.
- Each subsequent crop or program year after the conversion occurred, unless the wetland is restored before January 1 of the subsequent crop or program year.
Note: This provision applies regardless of when the conversion violation is discovered.
HELC and WC violators who do not receive a good faith exemption will remain ineligible for USDA program benefits for the years in violation.
Question: What do I need to do if I want to bring new land into production? Do I first need to check with FSA office?
Before producers clear, plow or otherwise prepare areas not presently under crop production for planting, they are required to file an AD-1026 with the Farm Service Agency indicating the area to be brought into production. Persons who will be cropping former CRP acres must also follow a conservation plan/acceptable system if the expired CRP field is on highly erodible land, in order to be eligible for USDA benefits.
FSA refers the AD-1026 to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who will make HEL and WC determinations. Failure to obtain advance approval for any conversion of land can result in the loss of eligibility and all federal payments.
Question: Is my land ever checked to see if I am in compliance?
Annually, NRCS makes visits to farms to verify that land is being farmed according to an acceptable conservation plan/system or that no conversion was made without prior approval. These visits can result from a random selection, through a whistleblower, or an area was found through another review or from aerial photography. When a potential violation is found, the producers involved are given an opportunity to meet with NRCS staff.
If you have specific questions or need details on USDA farm programs, contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency or other appropriate USDA agency office. And be sure to read the regular column of “Frequently Asked Questions about the Farm Program” appearing in each issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine and at www.WallacesFarmer.com.