Webinar reminds growers of upcoming deadlines

By Trista Crossley

At this time of year, most of the farm action is happening inside as growers are reminded of rapidly approaching farm program deadlines.

State leaders from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reviewed programs and deadlines and answered growers’ questions during a webinar last week as part of the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2021 winter schedule. You can watch a recording of that webinar at the Washington Association of Wheat Growers YouTube channel.

The most immediate deadline growers need to be away of is March 15, the deadline for Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage program elections and enrollments for the 2021 crop year. If an election is not made by the deadline, it will revert to the previous program chosen in 2019 and 2020. Travis Martin, FSA district director, explained that this year’s sign-up is for crops that are either in the ground or will be in the ground for this growing season. Payments are made in the year following the crop, so payments for the 2021 growing season will be made in October of 2022.

Individuals on noncropland or land enrolled in a conservation program are not required to sign the election form.

“Enrollment is a little different than (election),” Martin said. “After an election is made, then you make an enrollment, which is designating shares on that contract and who is eligible for payment. Producers with a share in base acres, which are different than planted acres, must sign the contract by the deadline.”

If there’s a missing signature of an operator or landlord who should have a share of base acres, enrollment is considered incomplete and will not be eligible for benefits. If a lease is secured after the deadline and a new operator needs to be added to that farm, FSA can do a contract revision, but the contract must have been in an enrolled status prior to March 15. Revisions can be done up to Sept. 1.

Go to fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/arcplc_program/index for more information and links to decision-making tools.

Another FSA program that is currently accepting applications is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The original deadline of Feb. 12 has been extended while the Biden Administration completes a review of the program. No new deadline has been announced yet.

“My recommendation to you is if you are interested in CRP, get an offer loaded into the system,” Martin said. “Talk to your county office. You don’t have to submit it immediately, but when the deadline is announced, you can call the county office and say ‘submit it,’ and we can hit the button to submit it. Waiting until the deadline is announced may put you in a bind on getting into the office and getting offers submitted.”

In general, Martin said CRP rental rates for Eastern Washington have gone up. For contracts that went into effect after June 3, 2019, there is no cost share for midcontract management activities. Contracts that went into effect before that are eligible for a 50 percent cost share.

Nonemergency grazing can happen every other year for CRP contracts, as long as that practice is part of the operator’s conservation plan. Typically, there is a 25 percent annual payment reduction on acres grazed, but beginning farmers can apply to have that reduction waived. Producers can graze during the primary nesting season, but will be subject to the 25 percent payment reduction as well as a 50 percent stocking rate. This would apply to all producers, including beginning farmers. The primary nesting season for all counties is April 1 to July 1. Routine grazing can last up to 120 days from March 1 to Nov. 1. The biggest caveat to grazing is that it can’t be detrimental to the stand, and farmers will be subject to reviews and spot checks by FSA and NRCS. Grazing can also be done as part of midcontract management, but it has to occur outside of the primary nesting season and can’t exceed 90 days. It can be done once during 10-year contracts or twice during 15-year contracts.

Emergency grazing is activated when a county hits a D2 drought level. It only happens outside the primary nesting season and can last for 90 days, but can’t cross fiscal years. If the D2 drought lasts at least eight weeks or the county moves into a D3 or D4 drought level, emergency grazing could be allowed during the primary nesting season, but will be at a 50 percent carrying capacity.

Producers with any questions should contact their county office. Some county offices are allowing in-person meetings by appointment only.

Keith Griswold, NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs, reviewed NRCS’s programs for producers.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Griswold called EQIP NRCS’s flagship program “to solve a resource problem on your property.” NRCS is accepting applications for fiscal year 2022. Applicant restrictions include:

  • Must control or own eligible land;
  • Must comply with adjusted gross income limitation provisions;
  • Must be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements;
  • Have an identified resource concern on the offered land; and
  • Must work with NRCS to develop a plan of operations to solve the identified resource concern.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Most producers that participate in CSP have already implemented conservation practices on their land and are looking to take conservation to a higher level. These contracts are five-year commitments. Griswold said applicants have to agree to maintain the existing level of conservation on their property at time of enrollment and then bring in additional enhancements to increase conservation. The national NRCS office hasn’t announced a sign-up period yet, but there are indications it may happen in March for fiscal year 2021. Applicant restrictions include:

  • Must control or own eligible land;
  • Must comply with adjusted gross income limitation provisions;
  • Must be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements;
  • Must work with NRCS to develop a plan of operations to solve the identified resource concern; and
  • Must provide a map that identifies and delineates the boundaries of all eligible land included in the operation.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP is a partnership between NRCS and project sponsors that combine funding to address watershed and regional natural resource concerns. Nationally, there is $300 million available annually.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This easement program provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve and enhance wetlands and to preserve working farms and ranches. NRCS works with a sponsor entity to jointly purchase development rights. The application deadline is Feb. 26 for fiscal year 2021.

The webinar wrapped up with a quick look at NRCS’s carbon assessment tools, including Comet-Farm, a tool that allows producers to calculate how much carbon their conservation actions can remove from the atmosphere.

Operators and landlords that have any questions about the subjects discussed above are encouraged to contact their county offices or or their local U.S. Department of Agriculture service center.