But Farm Service Agency officials say producers have just a few days to get with their sugar mills to determine which year will be the yardstick for calculating losses. Farmers can choose between 1999, 2000 and 2001.

"They must make this choice and submit it to their mill no later than Monday (August 18)," says Willie Cooper, Louisiana FSA director. "LSU is running the actual calculations to compare producer's sugar yield from the 2002 disaster year with their normal sugar per acre yield determined from the year they select.

“After the year is selected, they'll run the loss levels and report back to the mills and then the producers will have to verify by Sept. 2 that that is the correct data and the mills can file applications between Sept. 4 and Sept. 22."

Cooper said only those producers that suffered more than 20 percent loss or more will qualify for the program.

"It will eliminate those that have lost less than 20 percent, and compensation will be partially based on what the Louisiana sugar industry recommended," Cooper said. "I guess that would mean we will have to run factors because it might mean more benefits for those eligible, but we really won't know that until all the applications have been filed."

According to Cooper, the program will be graduated so those suffering the most loss will receive the most benefit.

"There is a graduated formula as far as how the money is distributed," he said. "Losses that exceed 40 percent are compensated at the highest rate with 80 percent of those losses receiving compensation. Losses between 30 and 40 percent are covered at a lower rate and 60 percent of those losses are compensated. Losses between 20 and 30 percent are covered at the lowest level with those 40 percent of those losses compensated. The eligible losses will be compensated at 20 cents per pound."

Cooper said all the money will be handled through the mills who will, in turn, distribute the money to the farmers, based on pre-existing agreements between the two.

"The sugar mills are where all the action takes place," Cooper said. "The producer will file their loss reports with the mill. We receive the applications from the mills, and we cut the checks to the mills. The mills will then distribute the money to the producers based upon their normal agreements."

Cooper said producers hopefully will receive their checks before Halloween.

"You never know what snags will pop up," Cooper said. "If we can stay on schedule, we'd be trying to get checks to the mills in early October. The mills would then have no more than 30 days to get the checks to producers."

Michael Danna is a writer for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com