After inquiries from farmers about the status of the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) program, Delta Farm Press made calls to several state Farm Service Agency offices in the South. SURE is a permanent disaster program administered by the USDA and was created in the 2008 farm bill as a replacement for ad hoc disaster programs.

All FSA employees we spoke with expect a lot of quality losses in 2009. Answers to the most common questions on the permanent disaster program were cobbled together from the short interviews.

Among them:

Must farmers have a 50 percent loss on all crops in a disaster year?

Each of these disaster programs is different and the legislation has different provisions and aren’t handled the same way. But for SURE, there has to be a USDA secretarial disaster declaration. Currently, 2008 is the only year eligible for the disaster funds.

The program also comes into effect if a producer has a 50 percent loss on all his farms in all counties where he farms.

A producer must also have at least a 10 percent loss on a “crop of economic significance.”

Once a loss is shown, will any crop insurance collected be deducted from the disaster payment?

No. There is a 90 percent cap for the expected revenue for a producer for all his crops based on state averages and USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) prices. NASS provides price and production averages.

Producers can’t exceed a cap that includes what they received for crops, what crop insurance pays and what the disaster program pays.

So, it doesn’t subtract the crop insurance payment but does have a bearing on it.

In other words, a producer won’t be made more than whole with the disaster program.

If a payment is made must growers buy a higher level of insurance coverage the following season?

No. In past disaster programs, if a farmer didn’t already have insurance he had to buy it. With the SURE program, you must already have insurance to qualify.

There are some provisions for limited resource/socially disadvantaged/beginning farmers. And there is some equitable relief USDA Secretary Vilsack can grant.

Due to the poor harvest situation across the South, when will farmers theoretically be eligible for 2009 losses?

Short answer: not soon. The way the SURE program is written, in order to calculate payments for the current crop you must have a full 12-month marketing cycle. Payments are adjusted based on that and will always be a year in arrears — like the DCP countercyclical payments.

“It’s bad the payments are in arrears,” said one officer. “But I like that we have a permanent program. The ad hoc disaster program was sometimes two, or three, years behind in getting payments out. At least this one is permanent and more dependable.”

During the interviews, all state FSA employees encouraged farmers to visit their county offices for more information. The problem is many states’ county offices are yet to have training on the new USDA programs.

The late date isn’t the FSA’s fault. They’re just now being approved for the training. And the rules haven’t yet been published — no handbook and nothing in the Federal Register. Plus, the comment period is yet to come.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com