There are still more questions than answers, but more information is emerging from USDA and farm organizations about the new farm bill — the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

Here's a sampling of the questions posed and answers received in a recent meeting conducted by the National Cotton Council's Fred Johnson and Harrison Ashley in Indianola, Miss.

Johnson is director of administration, and Ashley is assistant director of member services with the NCC in Memphis, Tenn. Like many of the meetings being conducted by the Council across the Cotton Belt, the Indianola meeting had a standing-room-only crowd.

Q: Are there different payment yields for the direct payments and counter-cyclical payments?

A: Under the new program, the direct payments are based on your current program yield numbers. The counter-cyclical payments offer you several options, if you update your program base numbers. You can: (1) keep your current payment yield; or (2) you can collect counter-cyclical payments on your current yield plus 70 percent of the difference between that number and the average of your 1998-2001 yields per planted acre; or (3) you can use 93.5 percent of your average yields per planted acre for 1998-2001.

Q: Some programs, like EQIP, have actually been funded at much higher levels than the money available to implement the programs. What's going to happen when money is not appropriated for everything in the farm bill?

A: This money is actually in this current legislation, and should be available until it runs out and the spending cap in this bill is reached.

Q: In the past, growers didn't have to certify acreage with the Farm Service Agency. What will that rule be now?

A: Under this new bill, you will have to provide FSA with acreage information. If you are going to establish new base and yield, you are going to have to prove somewhat that base was on that farm, whether you do that with records from boll weevil eradication or with insurance records or with ginning records. We won't know what FSA will accept until those regulations are written.

Q: Is there any percentage you have to change your base in order to change your program yield?

A: No, if you've got one acre different in your base, either up or down, you have the option to update your yield.

Q: Due to the changes in the farm program, will the Farm Service Agency allow growers to reconstitute their farms?

A: That question is yet to be answered. We're going to do everything we can to give folks an opportunity to make any needed changes.

Q: When you have multiple farm numbers, even within the same county, can you choose to change the program base or yield on one and leave the others?

A: This program is going to be by farm number. What you do on one farm, you have to do to every commodity on that farm. If you update the base or yield on one commodity on a farm, the other commodities in that farm number have to be updated as well.

Q: Will each farm number stand on its own in the new law?

A: Yes, each farm number will stand on its own. It's our understanding that the new farm bill talks about farms, and we're assuming that means each individual farm number. Tract numbers within a farm, however, are likely to be much different. We still need some clarification on this, but it would appear that the programs will be based on farm number, not tract number.

Q: If you have a farm that doesn't have a corn base on it, but you've been growing corn on it, where are they going to find the yield numbers needed for your direct payment?

A: First, we have yet to determine what FSA will accept for yield records for that farm. If you have crop insurance, hopefully they'll take that information.

Q: Who is going to make decision of whether or not to update program bases and yields? Is it going to be the landowner, or the operator? What if you've got several different landowners within one farm serial number?

A: The base follows the land. You will have to get the agreement of the landowner to change the program base or yield. The answer to your second question is yet to be determined.

Q: Can all program payments be deferred?

A: It is our understanding that the law says advance payments can be put off to a later date.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.