What's Up at the USDA Office?

Upcoming Deadlines/Dates
April 15: Spot Market Hog Pandemic Program
May 15 – August 1: Primary Nesting Season
July 15: Spring Crop Reporting

What’s New and Improved for Specialty Crop Producers?
Does your operation include specialty crops? Whether you grow fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, or nursery crops - USDA is here for you.

Over the past year, USDA has stepped up our support of specialty crop producers and local and regional food systems. USDA believes specialty crop producers are integral to the food system of the future, and we are working to improve available options for specialty crop producers as well as ensure equity in program delivery.

What’s New?
The Risk Management Agency (RMA) rolled out a new insurance option for small-scale producers who sell locally, which is named Micro Farm.  This new insurance coverage option simplifies record keeping and covers post-production costs, such as washing and value-added products. It is available now, and you can learn more from an Approved Insurance Provider or your RMA specialty crop liaison.

In addition to Micro Farm, RMA rolled out other new insurance options in the past year, including:  California Citrus Trees, Florida Citrus, Production and Revenue History option for Florida strawberries, and Hurricane Insurance Protection-Wind Index (HIP-WI). These new options either fill gaps in coverage or offer advantages over other policies. Since 2020, producers weathered several major hurricanes.  The new HIP-WI played a crucial role in recovery with more than $250 million in indemnities paid so far with most payments issued in a matter of weeks following a hurricane. Interest in growing and insuring specialty crops has grown significantly with $1 billion in liabilities for 1990 to $22 billion in liabilities for 2021. (For more details, check out reports on our Specialty Crops webpage.)

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) also offered pandemic assistance for organic producers. The new Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) provided assistance to help cover loss of markets, increased costs, labor shortages and expenses related to obtaining or renewing their organic certification.

What’s Improved?
In the past year, RMA made improvements to existing policies -- including Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, a key insurance option for specialty crop producers. Beginning in the 2021 crop year, direct market producers could report two or more commodities using a new combined direct marketing code.

This reduced a tremendous burden for diversified producers and allowed them to receive a premium rate discount for diversification. For 2022, RMA increased coverage for organic and aquaculture producers and enabled organic producers to report certified organic acreage as long as the request for certification had been made by the reporting date, which provides additional flexibility to producers.   

Want to Learn More?
These new and improved options for specialty crop producers are but a few of USDA’s strides over the past year to build a fairer, more transparent food system rooted in local and regional production. To learn more, please read USDA’s January 19, 2022, news release. For crop insurance, visit RMA’s Specialty Crops webpage or contact your specialty crop liaison.

Also, if there is not a standard offer for the crop you would like insured, you may still be able to get a written agreement for coverage. RMA Regional Offices review these requests to help provide coverage. These requests also provide Regional Offices the opportunity to review the possible expansion of the policy to your county. Lastly, you can read our Specialty Crops webpage on farmers.gov and question-and-answer with two specialty crop liaisons, Adrienne Steinacher and Matt Wilkin.

Mid-Contract Management (MCM) on CRP Acres
Now that temperatures are starting to feel more like spring, please start thinking about your MCM, if you are scheduled for this year.  Those that are scheduled for this year would have received a packet from our office this past fall detailing what needs to be done.  You do have until May 14, 2022 to complete the work, but now is a good time to start lining up contractors if you haven’t already done so, buy seed if needed, and get equipment ready.  If you have technical questions, need a seeding plan, or contractor list please contact the NRCS office.  Any other questions can be directed to FSA. Once you complete your MCM, please notify the FSA office, sign the FSA-848B form, and provide acceptable evidence (receipts, invoices, etc.) of practice completion to determine proper cost share payment.  

CRP Reminders
The primary nesting season runs from May 15 – August 1.  Please contact the FSA office if you need to perform spot maintenance activities on your CRP acres during this time.  Cosmetic mowing of your CRP acres is always prohibited, but you can spot treat areas that are threatened by undesirable vegetation throughout the year. A written request must be made before the County Committee grants approval to conduct maintenance during the nesting season. As a reminder, volunteer trees and woody vegetation must be controlled and removed from CRP acres. Failure to control undesirable vegetation on CRP can result in financial penalties.

Breaking New Ground
Agricultural producers are reminded to consult with FSA and NRCS before breaking out new ground for production purposes as doing so without prior authorization may put a producer’s federal farm program benefits in jeopardy. This is especially true for land that must meet Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland Conservation (WC) provisions. Producers with HEL determined soils are required to apply tillage, crop residue and rotational requirements as specified in their conservation plan.  

Producers should notify FSA as a first point of contact prior to conducting land clearing or drainage type projects to ensure the proposed actions meet compliance criteria such as clearing any trees to create new cropland, then these areas will need to be reviewed to ensure such work will not risk your eligibility for benefits. Landowners and operators complete the form AD-1026 - Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) Certification to identify the proposed action and allow FSA to determine whether a referral to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for further review is necessary.