USDA’s Farm Service Agency has released Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for emergency haying and grazing in 25 counties in Iowa. The agency made the announcement July 31, prompted by drought conditions in areas of the state that have been hit hardest by drought this summer.

The counties approved for emergency haying and grazing are Adair, Audubon, Boone, Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Cherokee, Crawford, Dallas, Greene, Guthrie, Harrison, Ida, Madison, O’Brien, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sac, Shelby, Sioux, Story, Webster and Woodbury. For information and a weekly update to see if more counties are added, producers need to contact their local FSA office.

USDA classifies counties that are exceptionally dry as D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought) and D3 (extreme drought). USDA’s D2 drought designation, or a 40% forage loss for these 25 counties in Iowa, brings with it the emergency haying and grazing option.

Based on weather monitoring 

“The 2018 Farm Bill changed the rules for how we allow haying and grazing,” says Amanda De Jong, state executive director for FSA in Iowa. “It made designating these areas as being eligible a simpler process.

“Going forward, counties that are either in the D2 drought designation already, or if they are given that designation by USDA in future weekly weather updates, we can open up emergency haying and grazing pretty much immediately. Our primary nesting season for game birds ended on Aug. 1 in Iowa; so after that date, CRP landowners can apply to get permission for haying and grazing.”

Landowners in the designated counties who want to graze CRP land must first visit their local FSA office to get permission, and then modify their conservation plan with another USDA agency: the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Iowa FSA began allowing haying and grazing Aug. 2.

Are FSA offices back to being open for in-person visits? Or is the COVID-19 pandemic still causing USDA to keep people from entering county offices and limiting their access to the FSA staff to phone and email only? “Just give your county office a call,” says De Jong.

“We have staff in our FSA offices on weekdays, full time. Some of our offices are by appointment only, so a producer can come in, but we do ask that they call first to schedule an appointment. That helps us with the screening questions for COVID-19. We have to keep our employees safe and our producers safe.”

Cattle producers need forage

The emergency haying and grazing is going to be critical to many producers in those 25 counties in central and west-central Iowa. “We’re ready to assist, so just give your FSA office a call,” De Jong says.

Things are getting back to normal in FSA offices. Activity is settling down. “We are still busy,” she says. “We’ve been busy processing CFAP applications, USDA’s Coronavirus Financial Assistance Program. That application period is open until Aug. 28. We are receiving applications daily. If you are applying for the CFAP program, you need to do so in the next few weeks.”

FSA county offices are also wrapping up 2020 planted acreage reporting by producers. Previously, because of COVID-19 precautions, FSA staff weren’t able to handle acreage reporting the way they normally do.

“Normally, a producer comes into the FSA county office, we review their maps, and load the acreage maps into our software program while the producer is standing there in the FSA office,” De Jong notes.

“They sign the document and go. But we weren’t able to do that this year, in the heart of the acreage reporting period — in June and July. We had to do a lot through regular mail and with email. There’s more back-and-forth, which slows the process down.”

ARC/PLC signup deadline is Sept. 30

For USDA’s Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs, the sign-up deadline is Sept. 30 for crop year 2020. Some counties still have a considerable number of signatures they are waiting to receive from producers. “If you don’t have your ARC/PLC contract for 2020 signed, please sign it and send it back to us,” De Jong says.

FSA is seeing more farmers adapting to digital technology used for enrolling and participating in USDA farm programs. “We’ve done a lot of things manually in the past,” she adds. “Thus, the transition to digital under COVID-19 has been hard.

“But we certainly are seeing more adoption of digital technology by producers. They need to have reliable internet access and the right tools. Where we’ve been able to start using electronic signatures, it has significantly decreased the time to process the paperwork, and that is helpful. We have improved some efficiencies, for sure. It’s kind of a silver lining as we continue to do our work amid this COVID-19 situation.”

Source: Rod Swoboda, Wallaces Farmer