The Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service doubled its number of customers serviced every year between 2005 and 2009 with conservation programs. Steve Robinson, President of the National Association of Conservation Districts, says that means there isn't enough technical assistance funding to provide more technical service providers and meet the needs and demands of landowners.
Some conservation programs are administered by NRCS and others by the Farm Service Agency. Vice President of the National Association of FSA County Office Employees John Lohr says FSA is proposing to be in charge of the administrative side of programs like applications, contract maintenance and payments and NRCS to take over the technical sides of programs.
The focus is to streamline those administrative services in order to free up 75% of the time for workers to be in the field working with farmers to assist them with conservation plans and projects.
NRCS Chief Dave White says that will happen by integrating all their tools into one "desktop icon."
"Eliminate duplicate entry of data and establish a client gateway on the Web," White said. "Where a farmer or rancher can sit at home and apply for a program, they can look at their contract and see if they're due a payment where it is in the process, they can look at their conservation plan. These kinds of things are going to have a huge impact."
White says the pilot program should be available by the end of 2011 as there is a lot of IT work that needs to be done between now and then. White says the program would allow producers to apply for everything on a single form. While they do have a single form, White says getting it online would be even better.
Farmers have also told their Congressmen they are worried about the time it takes to work through the process of participating in those programs. FSA Administrator Jonathan Coppess says the problem is that processes haven't been improved and FSA is working to update its computers and IT systems as well as the way programs are administered by 2014.
"It's not going to be rolled out at one time," Coppess said. "We are pushing very hard to take care of those things that we can clean up now and start making those improvements so that our customers see it, so that our field employees see it, that we make that progress as we go and we demonstrate that progress as we go."
Coppess says customers will see significant improvement on the time it takes for every bit of the process within the next year.