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Where do fruits, vegetables fit?

There are a lot of changes going on in rural Iowa. The past several years has seen new farmers, as well as established farmers, excited about growing vegetables or other alternative crops on some of their cropland.

A Wallaces Farmer reader writes: “Members of my family are talking about adding a new enterprise as we look to bring our daughter and son-in-law into our farming operation. We would like to expand our existing farm operation by growing something value-added such as fruits or vegetables. What do I need to do at our local FSA office? Where do I start? I’ve heard planting certain alternative crops could affect my farm program base acres or payments for crops like corn and soybeans. Is that true?”

Agriculture is indeed seeing diversification in crop production, notes Beth Grabau, with the USDA Farm Service Agency state office in Des Moines. In some areas, the demand for diversifying crops and farming operations is greater than in other areas. FSA offices around the state have seen an increase in the planting of nontraditional crops, which leads to a variety of questions.

There are regulations associated with the planting of some nontraditional crops such as fruits and vegetables on farms that are participating in the USDA farm program. “If you are thinking about starting a new enterprise, one of the first things you should do is visit your local FSA office,” she says. “FSA can provide an explanation of how current farm programs will affect these decisions.”

In some cases, the new enterprise may be on cropland that has never had an FSA farm number associated with it. Or what was grass surrounding a former building site may now be used for growing vegetables or other crops. “Many FSA programs require a farm number associated with the application, so these areas will need to be assigned one,” says Grabau, who provides the answer to the following question.

Question: I’m diversifying my operation and will be including some sweet corn this year? Is there anything I need to tell FSA?

Answer: Unlike past USDA farm programs, the current farm bill does allow for flexibility in crops planted on base acres enrolled in the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment or Average Crop Revenue Election programs. Farmers may plant any crop on these base acres with the exception of fruits and vegetables.

The important point is these crops cannot be planted on base acres. Here’s an example. Farm No. 4698 has 800 acres of cropland, 425 acres of corn base and 350 acres of soybean base. Base acres on this farm total 775 acres, and 800 acres minus the sum total of 775 acres of base is 25. In this example, there are 25 acres not covered by base, or are “free” acres.

Fruits and vegetables can be planted on “free” acres. There are exceptions to these rules. These apply to situations where either the producer or the farm has a history of planting fruits and vegetables.

If you are planting fruits and vegetables on a farm that is participating in the DCP/ACRE programs, remember to report this crop along with your other crop acres by the end of June. If your planting of this crop exceeds the “free” acres, and you or the farm don’t have a history of planting the crop, then you have a decision to make.

Penalties are severe for planting fruits and vegetables on base acres. It is considered a violation of your annual DCP or ACRE contract, and could result in termination of the annual contract.

Planting of these crops is prohibited on DCP acres unless the crop is destroyed without benefit before harvest. So, one option is to destroy the crop before harvest. Or if this farm has been enrolled in the annual program, it can be withdrawn from the DCP or ACRE contact before June 1 and you will then refund any payments (with interest) that were previously paid.

Contact your local FSA office for a list of crops that fall under these USDA farm program provisions or for more information on this subject. Also, ask FSA for the crop reporting dates.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.