Follow the rules on compliance

With high grain prices, more farmers are bringing new land into row crop production and many are getting out of compliance with their soil conservation plan. It’s costing them a lot of money. What happens with conservation compliance rules if you bring new land into production?

Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist at the USDA Farm Service Agency state office in Des Moines, provides the answers to these questions. If you have questions or need clarification, contact your local FSA office. Information regarding USDA farm programs is also online at www.fsa.usda.gov.

Question: With strong grain prices, many farmers are bringing new land into production. What impact could there be with FSA if I bring new land into production?

Answer: In the 1985 Farm Bill, Highly Erodible and Wetland Conservation Provisions were enacted into law. The objectives are to reduce soil loss from wind and water erosion, protect the nation’s long-term capacity to produce food and fiber, reduce sedimentation, improve water quality, help preserve wetlands, and remove incentive for persons to produce ag commodities on highly erodible or converted wetland. With high grain prices today, there is 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 the provisions and what activities are restricted?

Answer: There are two parts of the conservation compliance provisions: Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) Provisions and Wetland Conservation (WC) Provisions. HELC provisions apply when an agricultural commodity is 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 the Natural Resources Conservation Service determined the producer is actively applying an approved conservation system that’s based on the local technical guide, or is using a conservation system determined to be adequate for producing an ag commodity on highly erodible land.

The WC provisions can make persons ineligible for benefits under certain USDA programs if they: plant an ag 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 ag commodity possible.

Question: If I’m found to be ineligible for USDA farm program benefits, are there other penalties?

Answer: Once a violation is 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 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, or GPR. This assessment can range from $1,000 to $10,000. The GPR is increased by 20% for HELC violations on sodbusted land. Sodbusted land is land converted from native vegetation, such as rangeland or woodland, to crop production after Dec. 23, 1985.

GPRs 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 NRCS determined the conversion occurred

each subsequent crop or program year after the conversion occurred, unless the wetland is restored before Jan. 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 to bring new land into production?

Answer: Before producers clear, plow or prepare areas not presently under crop production for planting, they are required to file an AD-1026 with the FSA 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, to be eligible for USDA benefits. FSA refers the AD-1026 to NRCS, which will make HELC and WC determinations. Failure to obtain advance approval for any conversion can mean loss of eligibility and all federal payments.

Question: Is my land ever checked to see if I’m in compliance?

Answer: NRCS makes yearly 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 if 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.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.