Farm Bill Workshops Assist Farmers and Landowners

January - March 2003

Craig Chase , farm management field specialist

Under the 2002 Farm Bill, farmers were allowed to update their base acres and program yields that are used to calculate their federal farm payments for the first time in 20 years. The law gave farmers a one-time opportunity to choose from among several different base and yield formulas, allowing each landowner to select the most profitable option for each farm unit. Each farmer's choice was a critical decision that would affect his or her farm program payments for the six-year life of the farm bill.

A series of broad informational 2002 Farm Bill meetings were held in August in Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler , Grundy and Delaware counties. The meetings were co-sponsored by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The six meetings brought out 820 landowners, tenants and service providers to gain a beginning perspective of the farm bill rules and forms needed to complete the decision making process. A staff person from Senator Harkin's office attended one meeting and sensed the frustration from the crowd regarding the confusion with some of the rules. Interestingly, some of the rules were changed following the meeting that helped farmers make better choices.

In December, small-group workshops were initiated to assist attendees in filling out a worksheet developed by ISU Extension that helped answer which base and yield alternative should be made for any particular farm (FSA) unit. These workshops continued through February in Black Hawk, Buchanan, Butler and Grundy counties. In all, 23 two-hour workshops were held assisting 156 individuals in determining their best base and yield option. County Directors Bill Arndorfer, Pat Derdzinski and Bruce Bearinger helped with workshops in their respective counties. The FSA Director in each of the counties helped with most of the workshops as well, particularly regarding the rules that needed to be followed and the forms that needed to be filled out. Additional in-office and phone consultations were made.

There were two primary impacts from these efforts. First, those people that attended the meetings, workshops and consultations deeply appreciated the assistance working through the maze of regulations and helping them determine which base and yield option was best for their farm units. In many cases, the difference between a good decision and poor decision was significant. This appreciation brings about a high level of social capital and recognition. Second, the farmers and landowners that attended a workshop were able to file the correct forms with their FSA office more quickly, allowing the FSA office to increase its efficiency. The FSA directors appreciated the increase in efficiency and allowed for additional cooperation and programming in the future.

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