Though Farm Service Agency officials believed cost-share payments for the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program would be delayed by the expiration of the Farm Bill, they now say there will be no delay.
Under CRP, producers plant vegetation to improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and develop wildlife habitat. In return, USDA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance.
Farmers typically sign their CRP contracts and also a document that they submit with their receipts to be paid for cost-share. The second document raised concern, because not all were signed or entered into the agency’s electronic system prior to the Sept. 30 deadline and expiration of the Farm Bill.
Judy Olson, executive director of the agency’s state office in Washington, said the agency’s national offices reviewed the contracts and determined all participants with CRP contracts approved by Sept. 30 will receive cost-shares as normal.
The legal opinion is that the CRP contract serves as an approved contract, she said.
“I am relieved and pleased,” she said. “I was so concerned about producers that might be making determinations to do some of their maintenance or planting this fall, knowing the costs involved with that, and I was fearful they would have assumed they could go forward. I was very concerned producers needed all the information before they made that significant investment.”
Olson said the worry was due to expiration of the Farm Bill on Sept. 30, ending the agency’s legal authority to obligate new CRP expenditures.
“In the past, it has not really mattered a great deal as to whether that information was entered on Sept. 30, Oct. 1 or Oct. 10,” she said.
According to USDA, CRP provides $2 billion annually to landowners nationwide. The USDA does not cite numbers specifically for the cost-share portion of the program.
The Washington office originally estimated that 1,500 farmers in the state might have been impacted, but they will all be eligible if they determine they are conducting practices they want cost-share from in the fall, Olson said.
Olson said no CRP cost-share payments approved prior to Sept. 30 will be affected. There will be a delay while payment-processing software is updated, she said.
Due to the expiration of the Farm Bill, the agency still has no authority to move forward on any contracts not approved by the Sept. 30 deadline, Olson said. That affects contracts for the 2014 fiscal year.