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April 1: FSA urges farmers not to miss '03 sign-up date

April Fool's Day, 2003, could bring dire consequences to farmers who put off a visit to their Farm Service Agency office.

“Miss that April 1 deadline and base and yields revert back to previous levels and stay there for the next six years,” John Fuston, State FSA Executive Director for Texas, told participants in the second annual Texas Commodity Symposium, held recently in conjunction with the Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show.

Missing a June 2 sign-up deadline puts growers out of government programs for 2002 and 2003. They may participate in 2004 and afterward through annual sign-ups.

Fuston urged farmers to get into FSA offices as soon as possible.

“We've done a lot of work and have completed sign-up for 25 percent to 30 percent of the state's farmers. But we have a lot left to do,” he said.

John Johnson, USDA deputy administrator for Farm Programs, says the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 gave FSA “the shortest amount of time ever to implement a farm bill. The law is incredibly complex and deals with a lot of money — $180 billion over 10 years.”

Johnson said farmers will save themselves a lot of time and frustration by doing some homework before they come into the FSA office. “Use the FSA Base and Yield Analyzer program to identify best options,” he said.

“The government can't pull all this information together,” Fuston said. “The farmers who spend time with this computer program get through a lot quicker.”

Steve Verett, executive director of the Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., who is a farmer, said the process helped him tremendously.

“I used the Texas A&M version of the base and yield analyzer,” he said. “Farmers have to weigh out some things before they get into the FSA office. Some decisions are crystal clear; others demand some balancing.”

Verett said one trip to FSA was necessary to establish base and yields. Then, after analyzing options, and using those acreage and yield numbers, he developed a program for his farm.

“When I went back in to FSA for sign-up, I was in and out in an hour-and-a half. It was that simple.”

Fuston encourages farmers to make appointments as soon as possible. “Some offices are already scheduled through January and into February,” he said. “And come prepared.”

Johnson said the FSA website is:

Other important deadlines for farm program benefits include: December 2002, first advance direct payment for 2003; Oct. 2003, second and final 2003 direct payment.

Fuston said the Texas FSA had paid out more than $160 million through November: $11 million in direct payments; $13 million for counter-cyclical payments; $14 million for the dairy program; and $116 million for the peanut quota buyout.

“We also paid out more then $50 million for livestock compensation, a new program.”

Despite the complexity of the new farm program Fuston thinks “it's a good one. It's not perfect, but it should be good for rural America.”

The Corn Producers Association of Texas, the Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Association and the Texas Wheat Producers Association sponsor the Texas Commodity Symposium.

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