That’s one of the actions announced today by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman aimed at speeding signup for the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program of the 2002 farm bill. USDA estimates that about one-third of eligible farmers had signed up for the program at the end of January.

Producers have until April 1 to update their acreage bases and yields for the new Counter-cyclical Payment Program and until June 2 to complete signup for the remaining farm programs.

Veneman said allowing county FSA committee to establish a yield, based on similar farms in the local farming community or the LDP records for the specific farm, should help more producers complete signup, which she said increased by 20 percent in the last 30 days.

“We have seen considerable progress during the past month on farm bill signup,” said Veneman. “The steps we are taking today should help those producers who have had difficulties obtaining some of their records due to circumstances beyond their control.”

She said that today’s actions should assist those landowners who are unable to obtain production evidence to prove yields for their program payments. “The inability to obtain this information may be because the landowner has recently purchased a farm or part of a farm and historical production evidence cannot be obtained from the previous producer.”

This change is effective immediately and will be applicable to counter-cyclical yields for those producers electing to update their bases for eligible commodities, and for direct payment yields for oilseeds, the secretary noted.

“Prior to these revisions, producers applying for these programs would have had to accept 75 percent of the county average yield,” she said. “Those farmers who have already accepted the 75 percent county average may also take advantage of this new procedure by contacting their local USDA Service Center.

Veneman said the sign-up average for the major grain and southern states, which represents more than half of the total number of eligible farms nationwide, is 41 percent. At the current rate of sign-up, USDA would reach more than 60 percent of eligible farmers signing up nationwide and more than 80% of the major grain/southern state farmers) by the April 1 deadline.

USDA expects that about 30 percent of landowners will choose to retain their existing yields and roll their historical program flexibility contract base and yield numbers forward.

“Approximately one-third of eligible farmers have signed up, and we expect another large segment, perhaps close to a third, will choose to retain their existing Production Flexibility Contract yields and simply roll them forward, which accounts for about two-thirds,” said J.B. Penn, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Services.

“We now are focusing on getting the remaining one-third of producers enrolled in the next two months. Today’s announcement should help in that regard.”

Producers who do not want to accept the program’s default base and yield option must complete sign-up at the county office before April 1, said Penn. Those who do not want to update those numbers have until June 2.

Secretary Veneman and Undersecretary Penn noted that with the April 1 deadline fast approaching producers who have yet to begin the sign-up process should contact their local USDA Service Center or FSA office as soon as possible to review program details and options.

“The appointment books at the FSA offices are filling up from what we’re hearing,” said Veneman. “We’re recommending that farmers who have not signed up contact their FSA office as soon as possible to make arrangements to signup.”

For more information on the farm bill and signup, visit USDA’s Web-site at www.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com