Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

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December 24, 2013

USDA conservation compliance still important

Indiana leaders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service have issued an important reminder to program participants about conservation compliance. “Despite the expiration of many farm bill programs, the 1985 Conservation Compliance provisions remain intact,” stated Julia Wickar, FSA state executive director.

These Highly Erodible Land Conservation and Wetland Conservation Compliance provisions affect eligibility for nearly all FSA and NRCS programs. This includes loans, direct payments, conservation and disaster programs.

“NRCS technical experts make these determinations and FSA maintains the official records of USDA determinations,” noted Jane Hardisty, NRCS state conservationist. “It is a joint USDA effort to assist Indiana landowners in protecting environmentally sensitive lands.”

Farmers who produce an agricultural commodity on fields where highly erodible land is predominant are eligible for benefits unless NRCS determines that an acceptable conservation system is not actively applied.

Under the Wetland Conservation Compliance provisions, farmers are ineligible for benefits if they plant an agricultural commodity on a wetland that was converted after Dec. 23, 1985, or if they 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 agricultural commodity possible.

It is vital that landowners and operators know their land and have a record of all NRCS technical determinations. If activities are planned to make crop production possible, producers should visit the FSA to review records and complete the forms to determine whether a referral to NRCS is necessary. This is especially important when new farming interests are acquired, as activities performed by prior landowners and operators can have an adverse effect on eligibility for current benefits. For example, the owner of a property cleared a wooded area in 2010 and then sold the land in 2012. If the new owner plants a crop on the cleared area and it is later found to be a converted wetland, there is a potential for a loss of program benefits.

“When acquiring a new farm, it is very important to compare the recent imagery with the actual cropping lines in the field and get copies of any technical determinations on file,” stated Wickard. Hardisty added, “NRCS staff can provide technical assistance to assist landowners, but it is vital that assistance be requested and determinations are completed before the action is taken.”

Local Farm Service Agency offices have more details.

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