Signed into law by President Bush on May 13, 2002, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 is a complex web of government rules and regulations.
That level of complexity was readily apparent at a recent farm bill training meeting at the Charles W. Capps Jr. Center for Technology in Indianola, Miss. As each provision was discussed, questions arose from growers in the audience. To help producers better understand the intricacies of the new farm bill, the following are some of the more common grower queries and answers as provided by officials with USDA's Farm Service Agency.
Q: If adding oilseed base to a farm, do you have to prove your soybean yield averages for each tract of land in your farm, or for the farm number as a whole?
A: "In most cases with soybeans I think what we're going to be dealing with is prorating the production out over all farms," says Robin Richardson, Farm Service Agency county director in Sunflower County, Miss.
He says "If you haven't co-mingled your soybeans then, yes, the producer has to provide the documentation to support each yield average, but you don't have to prove each individual tract. You are bringing in production information for the farm itself, and if you have 18 farms, then you're going to have 18 yields to prove. We're going to have to help you actually calculate that, however.
The way the farm bill was written, Richardson says, growers are supposed to provide county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices with completed 658C forms documenting their crop production. Farm Service Agency officials then have the authority to spot check a farm number over a four-year period and assess penalties for any inaccuracies.
In reality, he says, many producers do not have the records available to document specific production for every farm, especially for farms that have been reconstituted in recent years. "We're going to have to help you make these decisions. By the same token, that's why we're telling you on the front end that we expect you to get your production evidence together, bring it into our office, and we'll help you calculate it."
Q: Why do the base options reports list information for both soybeans and total oilseeds?
A: Your base options report contains production information for all oilseed production. That includes soybeans as well as any other oilseeds, including sunflowers, which you produced from 1998 to 2001.
When adding oilseed bases, you can update your oilseed bases individually, but the limitation is on total oilseeds. "Let's say you had a 100 acres — 75 acres of soybeans and 25 acres of sunflowers — and you were limited to 75 acres as your total oilseed base available. You could choose your soybean acreage and forget about the sunflower acreage. Otherwise, if your oilseed base acreage is not limited to less than 100 acres, you'll get credit for both your soybean and sunflower acres," Richardson says.
Q: If you don't plant a crop for which you have a base on, do you still get the counter-cyclical payment for that crop, or just the direct payment?
A: "You don't have to plant a crop, period, to earn either a direct payment or a counter-cyclical payment. A landowner can just take his farm and leave it set-aside, keep it maintained by disking or clipping or whatever, and earn the payments that are there, both the direct and the counter-cyclical, Richardson says.
"At the same time, however, if for some reason the price of a commodity goes up, the counter-cyclical payment will be gone and you won't earn it."
For payment purposes, your direct yield equals your current program yield or the county committee's similar farm assigned yield. In the case of soybeans, your direct yield will either be 78 percent of the county yield average, which in the case of Sunflower County, Miss., is 16 bushels per acre, or it will be the proven yield of your farm times 78 percent, according to Richardson.
Q: If you want to update your bases and add an oilseed base but retain your previous yields, how will soybean yields be determined?
A: If you want to update your bases but retain your current yields, your soybean yield will be the same for both direct payment and counter-cyclical payment purposes. You can still prove your soybean yields, but it will be subject to the 78 percent factor for both direct and counter-cyclical purposes, Richardson says.
Q: For oilseeds, what percent moisture is allowed when proving your program yield?
A: For the purposes of this program, Richardson says, the Farm Service Agency will use the number of net bushels paid according to your load summary sheet, or your settlement sheet. "If the warehouse has taken deductions for moisture, you will not get credit for those deductions in the yield category. We're going to look at what the warehouse actually paid for," he says.
Q: If you have several co-landowners scattered across the United States. can you use a power of attorney to allow the local landowner to handle all of the required paperwork?
A: The short answer is yes. To do so, however, you must have a new power of attorney on file with the county Farm Service Agency office. "My advice to you is, if you want to use a power of attorney, go ahead and get a new form from your local FSA office, and get it executed and signed," Richardson says.