USDA offers a wide variety of programs to assist producers in meeting their conservation goals.
Whether you need a waterway to reduce erosion, or would like to install a filter strip to help improve water quality, there is more than likely a program that will provide cost share and technical assistance to help you establish the practice you are interested in.
There are a couple of issues that are very important to keep in mind when you are considering participation in a USDA conservation program. First and foremost, you must realize that you are committing to a binding legal contract.
If you decide at a later date to discontinue participation prior to the expiration date of the contract, or to sell the land under contract and a successor in interest is not put into place, it can become very costly. For contracts terminated prior to expiration, all incentive, rental, and cost share payments must be refunded. Interest and liquidated damages will apply to these payments as well.
Before you sign into a program ask questions so there are no surprises down the road. Secondly, be sure to apply early for your desired practice.
Waiting until you are ready to begin the practice before you come to the office to enroll is not a wise decision. In some cases it will cause you to lose the opportunity to participate in the program at all. NRCS must determine the practice is needed to control an erosion or water quality issue.
If a practice is installed before a request is made to the county office for a contract, there is no longer a need for the practice. If a practice is already in place that is addressing the conservation issue, a contract cannot be approved.
It takes a great deal of time for FSA to prepare the necessary paperwork for a contract, NRCS to prepare all of the technical plans, and for both agencies to acquire all necessary signatures.
Once a producer has requested a contract in one of the programs, he can begin the practice prior to final approval, but he will be doing so at his own risk. If for some reason the contract would not be approved, or the practice would not meet NRCS specs when completed, the producers would not receive cost share or rental payments. It is always best to start the process early. When you visit the office to discuss enrollment, it is imperative that you inform the technician you are working with of ANY other USDA programs you are involved in. Producers cannot participate in more than one program at a time on the same land. With so many programs available today such as the CRP, EQIP, and CSP, which are being administered by various agencies, it is the producer's responsibility to be sure two different programs are not put into place on the same cropland. If an error is made and it is determined that the same land is enrolled in two programs, one of the contracts must be modified and payments refunded. Interest will apply to the refunds. Be aware of the deadline to complete the practice you have committed to. Producers have twelve months from the time their contract is approved to install the practices in their plan. In the case of "circumstances beyond the producer's control," the county committee may extend a practice up to an additional twelve months. Practices not completed within the extended time frame are to be terminated.
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As a reminder: Be watching your mailbox for your official county office committee election ballot. Ballots were mailed to all eligible voters starting on Nov. 2.
If, for some reason, you don't receive a ballot, feel free to notify the county FSA office. Completed and signed ballots are due back in the county office by the close of business on Dec. 3.
Diana Strouse is the county executive director for the Huron and Erie County Farm Service Agency. For more information, call the agency at (419) 668-4113.