FSA program audit uncovers error

By Trista Crossley

wheat field

In early August, some Eastern Washington producers learned they had been mistakenly enrolled in a conservation practice they didn’t qualify for, and their contracts were being cancelled. But along with the bad news was some good news — the state Farm Service Agency (FSA) office already had a solution in place.

According to Jon Wyss, executive director of the Washington State FSA, 508 contracts enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program’s CP15A (contour grass strips) practice were impacted. Most of the contracts were in Whitman County, with a few in Spokane County. The discrepancy was discovered when state staff did a program audit while assisting the Whitman County FSA office through staff transitions earlier this year. Growers who were signed up for CP15A but shouldn’t have been were notified by letter. The state FSA office also held a phone call with about 200 producers to explain the situation.

Producers will receive this year’s payment as usual in October. However, their CP15A contracts have been cancelled, and producers were given two options for the future:

  • Sign up for the Highly Erodible Lands Initiative (HELI) or the State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement.
  • Offer the land in the next Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up.

Producers could also choose to put the land back into production.

In any case, because it was an administrative mistake, producers did not have to make repayments, there were no contract penalties for the contracts being cancelled midterm, and producers now have a new 10- or 15-year contract.

“From what we can see, there’s little to no downside to the producers because they get to choose their options,” Wyss said. “Do they want to farm it? Do they want to put it into HELI? Do they want to put it into CRP in the next general sign-up? We tried to do the best we could for the majority of the group. About 99% of folks are going to see no change. I’ll take that as a win.”

The state office ran scenarios for all impacted producers and mailed out contracts. All producers needed to do was sign the contract and send it back to FSA.

Wyss said steps have been taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. The state office has requested that, moving forward, the district directors perform spot checks on the first five CP15A contracts prior to practice approval.