As the 2016 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County (ARC-County) payments land in farmers’ mailboxes this October, some farmers might be surprised by the lower amounts they receive from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). Ongoing concerns with how such payments are determined and distributed are something National Corn Grower Association (NCGA) leadership continues to address, and there’s more than one knot they are working to untangle.
One challenge has to do with how well or whether farmers report the information requested each year by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) crop surveys. NCGA is asking farmers to step up to the plate.
“When the NASS surveys arrive, fill them out and file them correctly,” encourages Wesley Spurlock, a farmer based in the Texas panhandle near Stratford and NCGA president. “[That way] NASS has a good accounting of your area and your county, and we believe some of these issues will then correct themselves.”
Farmers concerned about protecting their individual data are often reluctant to hand over that information, which is reflected in farmers' falling response rates to various NASS acreage and production surveys. But under the current Farm Bill, farmers wanting to participate in the ARC-County farm program are required to provide crop yields, acreage and pricing information to NASS annually. NCGA notes that individual grower data are confidential, and that the information is aggregated and used only for statistical purposes. Plus, federal law protects the confidentiality of farmers’ data.
Those reassurances aside, NCGA officials do say there are some snafus at a very basic level that NASS needs to fix. One is as seemingly simple as improving the distribution lists used for mailing surveys to farmers.
“When we sat down with the administrator last March, they assured us they’re working on that, but we heard afterwards that there are still farmers getting the surveys who have retired or passed away,” Spurlock says.
“They need to find out who is currently farming the land so they can update the distribution lists,” adds Kevin Skunes, an Arthur, N.D., farmer and NCGA first vice president. That information is readily available, he says, through county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices.
Along with concerns about the accuracy of NASS mailing lists, NCGA also questions whether the various arms of the USDA can communicate effectively with each other electronically. “Does the software used between FSA and NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) mesh, for instance, and does USDA software have the ability to input the information and update the lists? We don’t know,” Spurlock says.
Still, NCGA leaders say they will continue to encourage farmers to report their crop information to NASS. “Farm programs and payments are too important to rely on third-party sources and best guesses,” says an NCGA formal statement. “This is about farmers’ bottom lines. By taking the time to complete the confidential NASS crop survey, growers can play an active role in ensuring fair implementation of farm programs in their counties.”