Back when I had more hair than now, I can remember implementing The Food Security Act of 1985. One of the major changes to farm programs was the introduction of Conservation Compliance on Highly Erodible Land and Wetlands.
Eligibility for FSA (ASCS then) and NRCS (SCS) programs required producers to have a conservation plan in order to plant on Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and had restrictions on planting on soils determined to be wetlands.
This was a hot topic then and, as an agency, we watched over this like a hawk. When producers picked up a new farm, we would require them to meet with the local district conservationist and get a plan, specific to them, for planting on this type of ground. We set flags so that payments couldn’t be made until this act was completed.
About 96 percent of the farms nationwide got plans and everybody felt good about this, including Congress. All the conservation problems were solved.
In time, rules were changed and someone with a grade scale higher than mine made the decision that once a plan was written it would stay with the farm and it became the producer’s responsibility to find out what the plan was and if he couldn’t follow it, he was responsible to get a new one. Producers were also allowed to follow their own conservation system.
Each year, producers would come in and sign their AD-1026 forms, a certification that they were in compliance with Conservation Compliance on all the land they operated. It became almost a cursory signing. No one was ever really spot checked in depth.
Let’s fast forward to today. When corn and beans reached $7 and $14 a bushel, respectively, a lot of ground that used to set idle started getting farmed. Farmers had money for tile and places that used to be too wet started getting farmed. Ground was being cleared and trees were being dozed out and new ground was coming into production.
This also seems to correspond with the extreme downpours that we now seem to get. It no longer rains on my farm, it pours.
At the same time, someone in Washington decided that more spot checking for conservation compliance needed to be done and nationally they started sending down selected farms. Guess what? We started finding producers out of compliance.
Penalties for violations can be anywhere from hurtful to downright pocket book breaking. The new farm bill (2014 crop year) also increased the ante by requiring that not only are FSA and NRCS programs subject to this provision, they have also added producers who get crop insurance. Failure to comply on a farm that has 200 acres of corn and a disastrous yield and losing your crop insurance payment is no joy in my book.
What you should know
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help avoid this situation.
- Many counties within the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District watershed have been getting grants to fall seed rye on highly erodible land. Bean stubble and corn silage ground doesn’t provide much residue and planting a fall cover crop is a good start to keeping in compliance. Contact your local SWCD office to see if they offer this program or encourage them to.
- Also, before creating new drainage systems, leveling, dredging, land clearing and stump removal should be evaluated by NRCS before doing as such. Maintaining existing drainage systems is OK, but improving them without consulting your local NRCS is dicey at best.
- Talk with your local district conservationist about planting on highly erodible ground. Corn and bean rotations are popular and no-till is great for this situation, but sometimes it’s not going to keep you in compliance.
A few weeks ago, there was an FSA Andy article on CRP and, if I recall, waterways might have been mentioned. That’s the only way I know of stopping gully erosion.
I know landowners don’t want to sign up for stuff like that, but truthfully, it’s the best thing they could do for their land. They get cost-share payments for installing them, yearly payments and you stay in compliance. What a deal!
That’s all for now,
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