Breaking New Ground?

Colorado USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director SED Leland Swenson cautions agricultural producers to consult with FSA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) before breaking out new ground for production as doing so without prior authorization may put a producer’s federal farm program benefits in jeopardy. Although checking with USDA anytime ground is cleared or otherwise converted is a good business practice, this is especially true for ground that is considered highly erodible (HEL) or is considered a wetland. Producers participating in federal farm programs and any person or entity considered to be an "affiliated person" of the producer, are subject to regulations pertaining to ground having HEL or wetland determinations. “Before heading out with a dozer to clear a fence line or hiring a contractor to drain or fill in wet areas in a field, it is extremely important that you have consulted with our staff to insure these acres are not considered highly erodible or wetland acres,” said Swenson. “I assure you, the hour or so spent working with our staff to make sure your plans won’t impact these fragile lands before you head to the field, will be time well spent.” USDA enacted Highly Erodible and Wetland Conservation Provisions in 1985 to reduce soil loss; reduce sedimentation and improve water quality; preserve the nation’s wetland; protect the nation’s long-term capacity to produce food and fiber; and remove incentive for persons to produce agricultural commodities on highly erodible land or converted wetlands. USDA defines highly erodible land as cropland, hayland or pasture that can erode at excessive rates. These lands contain soils that have an erodibility index of eight or more. And, a wetland has a predominance of wet soils types, is inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support water tolerant vegetation and, under normal circumstances, supports a prevalence of such vegetation. According to FSA policy, to be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions, producers must agree, by certifying on FSA’s Form AD-1026, that they will not: Produce an agricultural commodity on highly erodible land without a conservation system; Plant an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland; Convert a wetland to make possible the production of an agricultural commodity. Any planned deviation to the agreement having the potential to convert HEL or wetland acreage or even land that may not yet have HEL or wetland determinations requires that producers update the Form AD-1026. FSA will notify NRCS and NRCS will then provide highly erodible land or wetland technical determinations on the acreage in question. Swenson warns that producers participating in FSA and NRCS programs who are not in compliance with highly erodible land or wetland conservation compliance provisions are not eligible to receive benefits for most programs administered by both agencies. And, if a producer has received program benefits and is later found to be non-complaint, he/she would be required to refund all payments received and may be assessed liquidated damages. “We realize that between harvest and planning for the 2014 planting season, producers get busy, but I can’t stress enough the importance of insuring that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before converting land for production – this includes former Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ground,” said Swenson. “Bottom line… when in doubt, come by our office and you’ll leave with peace of mind knowing that your eligibility for farm program benefits is not at risk” USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).