FSA expects great interest


Tim Leeds/Havre Daily News/[email protected]

Signup for a federal disaster program for agriculture begins next week and the local Farm Services Agency expects many local producers will apply.

"We expect 100 percent," said Mike Zook, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FSA office in Hill County. "Because of the crop situation that occurred in 2001 we would expect losses on every single farm in the county to come in under this program."

The office will begin making appointments for that signup after Wednesday as it finishes helping producers apply for the latest offering in the Conservation Reserve Program, he said.

"The staff is working extended hours," he said Thursday.

The deadline for applying for CRP was extended from May 31 to June 13. The program is allowing producers to enter about 21,300 acres of Hill County land into CRP.

Under CRP, producers are paid to take land out of production to prevent erosion of marginal land and to increase wildlife habitat. Hill County has about 290,000 acres of land in CRP now, the largest amount of any county in the nation and more than the CRP acreage of 26 states, according to FSA. But it's still below the limit of 25 percent of cropland allowed. Some of the land in the new signup will be available because of land coming out of the program in the next two years, Zook said.

Zook said the CRP deadline was extended because extra time was needed learning to use - and correcting bugs in - new computer programs to process the applications. Since the problems were resolved, the software has performed well, he added.

The application period for disaster assistance actually began today, but Zook said problems similar to the ones the office had with the new CRP regulations and software are delaying the disaster aid process.

"We're just receiving the software and want to make sure we have all the problems resolved," he said.

The disaster assistance can be used for losses in either 2001 or 2002. Zook recommended that people with losses in disaster aid apply for both years, and the computer program will determine which will provide the best benefits.

The losses can be to yields or quality, he added. Producers who lost more than 35 percent of their crop, or had a 20 percent or higher loss in quality of the crop, are eligible for benefits.

The assistance probably will be smaller as far as the number of dollars distributed to individual producers than in past years, Zook said, because of a cap on the payments.

The total of disaster assistance, actual amount received for the crop and insurance received for crop losses can't exceed 95 percent of what a producer would have received in an average year.

"Because of that, I don't think we will see as much as in previous disaster programs. But it's going to be a boon to the county," he said.

The disaster aid program, which doesn't have an application deadline yet, won't cover losses in livestock or hay crops. Zook said assistance for those losses will come from the Livestock Assistance Program, which will start later this summer.

Zook said his office has been extremely busy processing the applications for CRP in the past few weeks. About 300 tracts of land have been submitted for consideration, and the total submitted is already greater than the 21,300 acres that can be approved.

The tracts submitted for consideration by the June 13 deadline will be sent from the local office to the national level, and will be ranked under six criteria. The tracts approved to enter the program will then be sent back to the local level and all producers who submitted bids will be notified whether their bid was approved or not.


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