FSA explains its system for numbering farms

A farmer asks: It seems like every year I have a different farm number assigned to my farm by the USDA Farm Service Agency for farm program purposes. My local FSA office says this is the result of a reconstitution. Why is that? Why can’t I keep my old numbers?

For FSA purposes, a reconstitution, or recon, is the process of combining or dividing farms or tracts based on the farming operation, says Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist at the FSA state office in Des Moines. Recons can be initiated by the owner, operator or the local county FSA committee. When changes in ownership in an operation take place, a farm reconstitution is necessary.

FSA starts with the parent farm(s) and combines or splits this farm into a new resulting farm number, she says. The resulting farm is physically different; therefore, a new number is needed. Changes to a tract may not affect the farm number. Grabau answers the following related questions.

Question: How is a recon done?

Answer: During the recon process, farms are combined or divided. A combination is when two or more farms or tracts are combined together. Basically, FSA adds up the cropland and the base acres of the farms and creates a new farm number. The individual tracts of land with their cropland are just transferred to the new farm number. We could combine tracts, but they are part of a farm number, so in a tract combination, the farm number would not change. 

Note: farms are made up of tracts. Every farm has at least one tract, and could have more than one. A tract of land is generally fields connected in the same section of a township with common ownership. One tract could have any number of fields. 

FSA also does recons to split a farm or tracts. For example, an 80-acre field is owned jointly by two parents; they decide to transfer ownership of 40 acres to each of their two children. FSA would divide this tract of land, the 80, based on the footage or legal description on the deed, into two 40-acre tracts for this farm. The farm number can stay as is. 

However, if the new owners want separate farm numbers, FSA would divide the farm into two farms, with two new farm numbers. Each tract would have the cropland (taking out waterways, building sites, etc.) and the associated acreage base.

Question: How do I initiate a recon? Is there a deadline? What happens if I’ve already signed up for the farm program?

Answer: Recons can be requested anytime. This request is done by visiting your local FSA office. If the recon involves changes in ownership, copies of the filed deeds will also need to be provided to the FSA office.

To be effective for the current year, recons must be requested by Aug. 1 for a farm enrolled in a specific program. The final date to sign up for DCP, or the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment program, is June 1. So it’s important you are enrolled on the parent farm(s) before that date.

This will ensure that you can enroll the resulting farm number into DCP in the event the recon is not completed until after June 1. If the farm has been signed up and paid the DCP advance payment, then this money will need to be refunded before the recon can be completed. The advance payment will then be reissued under the new farm number.

Question: A combination is pretty self explanatory, but are there different ways a farm can be divided?

Answer: Unless instructed otherwise, county FSA office staff will complete a recon using the default method, which means that a farm will basically take with it the base that is brought to a previous combination. If a previous recon hasn’t been done, the DCP cropland method will be completed, or the division will be prorated on the DCP cropland. The following are different methods that can be used when doing a farm division:

Estate method. This is the division of bases, allotments and quotas for a parent farm among heirs in settling an estate.

Designation of landowner method. This may be used with one of these occurrences: 1) part of a farm is sold or ownership is transferred, 2) an entire farm is sold to two or more persons, 3) farm ownership is transferred to two or more persons, 4) part of a tract is sold or ownership is transferred, 5) a tract is sold to two or more persons, or 6) tract ownership is transferred to two or more persons. In order to use the designation of landowner method, the land that was sold must have been owned for at least three years, or a waiver granted, and buyer and seller must sign a memorandum of understanding.

DCP cropland method. New tracts end up with crop acreage bases that are in the same proportion to their DCP cropland, as the crop acreage bases were to the DCP cropland in the farm being divided.

Default method. This is used when division of bases for a parent farm with each tract maintaining the bases is attributed to the tract level when the reconstitution is initiated in the system.

If you have questions about FSA farm numbers or reconstituting farms and fields for USDA program purposes, visit your local FSA office.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.