THE PROCESS to nominate local producers to serve on USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees has begun across the nation.

Farmers on county committees help insure FSA agricultural programs serve the needs of local producers. Committees make decisions on county commodity price-support loan eligibility, establishment of allotments and yields, conservation programs, disaster programs, employment and other issues.

Any agricultural producer who resides within the local administrative area from which a member of his or her county committee is being elected or who is participating or cooperating in an FSA program may be a nominee.

Specific examples of persons who may be eligible to participate in the election process if they participate or cooperate in an FSA program include: an owner, operator, tenant, or sharecropper; a spouse listed on the property deed; the spouse of an eligible voter in a community property state; a member of an Indian tribe holding agricultural land; a partner in a general partnership or member of a joint venture that has an interest in a farm as an owner, operator, tenant, or sharecropper; and someone who is not of legal voting age, but who supervises and conducts the farming operations on an entire farm.

Individuals may nominate themselves or others as candidates. In addition, eligible candidates can be nominated by community-based organizations in the county or area, especially groups representing socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. Nominations and elections are open to all eligible candidates and voters without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, marital status or disability.

Sept. 3 is the last day to file nomination forms. Ballots will be mailed to eligible voters on or before Nov. 8.

To receive a ballot by mail, voters must register with their local FSA offices by Oct. 1. Eligible voters may also obtain ballots by visiting their local FSA offices.

Dec. 6 is the deadline to return ballots.

Elected committee members and alternates take office on Jan. 1, 2005.

Nomination forms (FSA-669A) can be obtained from local FSA offices or USDA Service Centers or online at http://forms.sc.egov.usda.gov/eforms/mainservlet. Details on FSA COC elections can be found on the Internet at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/elections.