USDA officials expressed concern about the slow pace of signup for the 2002 farm bill, warning that it may lead to long lines at county Farm Service Agency offices next spring.

Officials used a press briefing in Washington to try to convey a sense of urgency of the need for farmers to call for appointments and begin the process of updating bases and yields, if need be, and enrolling in the farm bill's new programs.

“If producers are putting forth a New Year's resolution, we hope it is to understand the importance of signing up early,” said J.B. Penn, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, who was joined by Deputy Undersecretary Hunt Shipman and FSA Administrator James Little at the briefing.

“USDA is committed to working at every level to assist producers, but it is critical they contact their local FSA office to begin processing individual program information and updates needed to participate,” Penn noted.”

Little said reports from the state FSA offices indicate that producer signup for the direct and counter-cyclical programs is proceeding “quite slowly.” He said the late harvest in many parts of the country have kept farmers in the field longer than usual in some cases.

Additionally, the complexity of the new programs requires more time for producers to understand, assemble the necessary information and make their decisions, often involving several different commodities and unknown future market conditions.

“For the signup process to proceed smoothly, we need a steady flow of producers visiting their local county FSA office from now to the April 1 deadline,” said Little. “We want to avoid a last minute crunch in the county offices. Thus, the sooner producers contact their local FSA offices and begin the signup process, the more our staff can be of help to them to receive their intended benefits in a timely manner.”

He reminded producers they can still make changes to their decisions — after they sign up — from now until the April 1 closing date for base acreage and yield updates. “And producers may visit their local FSA office multiple times to review information and discuss their decisions.”

“Insuring timely delivery of program benefits is a top priority for USDA,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in a statement.

“As farmers wrap up this fall's challenges, we are hopeful that the extensive outreach, education and training USDA has conducted throughout the country will enable producers to quickly focus on signing up for the program, which will help prevent long lines at the county offices next spring.”

Penn said USDA has developed extensive new software, trained personnel and prepared directives for the many new and existing programs in the farm bill. In addition, it set up a new website and conducted hundreds of outreach meetings to farmers nationwide.

New computer-based tools also have been developed to help producers analyze the economic consequences of the new farm bill's updating options, he noted. USDA, in conjunction with Texas A&M University, has made available one such calculator on the FSA website (http://www.fsa.usda.gov/). Several other land-grant universities and commodity associations have developed similar tools available to producers.

“All of us at USDA recognize the importance of the new farm bill to America's producers, and we remain fully committed to providing them with all the necessary information and assistance throughout the implementation process,” added Penn.

For a complete list of farm bill programs, benefits and information needed for sign-up, Penn asked farmers to visit USDA's farm bill website at http://www.usda.gov/ or contact a local FSA office or service center.


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.