Producers in Douglas County have been notified about an issue with approximately 150 general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 2022 sign-ups. Fortunately, Jon Wyss, Farm Service Agency (FSA) Washington state executive director, was ready with a fix, which he told producers about during a phone call last month.
“We at the office missed some critical documents and doing follow up and making sure that all the documents were in place,” he explained. “It was a complex situation where we couldn’t tell if it was an FSA error or it was a producer error, so we took the side of caution for all producers involved and just basically said we are going to redo sign-up for only the impacted producers and give them until April 21 to make everything work. If we have all that documentation and you bring it all in and we get everything accepted, your October payment will still go out as planned.”
The problem was found during an audit of the county’s files. Wyss said the missing documents led to contracts being erroneously approved without the necessary documentation. Affected growers were sent packets that specified which documents were missing and/or documents that needed signatures. Wyss acknowledged that the fix meant slightly more work on the producer’s side and said the state office is working to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The state FSA office is transitioning to a digital system that will better track producer documents, the staff at both the county and state level are getting more training to make sure proper procedures are followed, and there will be checks added to the process.
“We know we have some repair work to do with you all. Be patient with us as we go through this with staff and bring them up to speed with training,” Wyss said.
Former SAFE acres may be eligible for CRP
Douglas County producers should also be aware of a potential CRP opportunity. In 2020, due to a change in the way State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) acres were counted against a county’s 25% cap, Douglas County was unable to participate in the general CRP sign-up. To protect expiring acreage, much of which was sage grouse habitat, the state FSA office worked with the state Natural Resources Conservation Service to offer enrollment in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with the understanding that once a CRP sign-up was available to county growers, they could cancel that EQIP contract without penalty in order to enroll the acreage in CRP.
With growers now eligible for the 2023 CRP sign-up, that option is still available. However, the active EQIP contracts must be either completed or cancelled prior to the approval of the new CRP contract, which will be Oct. 1, 2023. Growers need to contact the local NRCS office to work out those details as soon as they know that their CRP offer has been accepted.
Producers’ EQIP ground will be treated as new ground, not expiring CRP. This means they will have to meet CRP eligibility requirements. Producers should contact the local U.S. Department of Agriculture service center if they have any questions.