March 11, 2015
This spring you're apt to make at least one visit to your local USDA Farm Service Agency office to make sure you have all the proper paperwork filed for the onslaught of farm bill decisions ahead.
The friendly face at your local FSA office will be there to help, and new technology offers efficiencies, too.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that the local FSA office isn't what it used to be. And before you know it, you'll be able to do more regular tasks on your home computer or smartphone. FSA's hope is to tap into the growing tech-savvy of farm operators to improve efficiencies and conveniences along the way.
Not your grandpa's Farm Service Agency: It's hard to find an FSA employee like this.
FSA's MIDAS – Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems – project began in 2007 to provide a sustainable long-term solution that will improve the delivery of FSA farm program benefits and services through the re-engineering of farm program business processes and the adoption of enhanced and modernized information technology.
When full IT modernization is finished, FSA will have a streamlined IT system built on business processes that are supported by newer, faster, more secure and more reliable Web-based technologies, explains Matt Kleski, a management specialist at the Ohio Farm Service Agency.
The first major component of the MIDAS revamp came with the introduction of the Farm Records changes in 2013.
Val Dolcini, the Farm Service Agency's new administrator, says these improved efficiencies come in various ways, including consolidating land maps, updating customer info and providing the platform for the various program updates that would come into effect under the 2014 Farm Bill. Dolcini says 5 million farms, with 8.1 million tracts of land and 38 million fields, are now managed in MIDAS.
New farm business partner
In December, FSA launched its MIDAS Business Partner module, expanding out to 11 million customer records. It will be the system of entry and record, and serve as a centralized source for all customer information, empowering users to minimize manual steps.
Kleski says the Business Partner release that went live Dec. 17 will allow FSA staff to edit and maintain customer information, access program eligibility information in one consolidated view rather than multiple systems, and automatically validate customer information, such as mailing address at the time of entry, reducing replication and streamlining interaction with producers.
One of the greatest benefits from the latest IT release is that farmers no longer have to go to multiple county offices if their farmland is in different counties, but rather all counties can have access to the information.
FSA improvements ahead >>
FSA also is using a more convenient method to communicate with ag producers. Govdelivery.com provides agency news updates and program reminders directly to customers via emails and texts.
FSA still relies on free local radio and newspaper media to get information out; however, with fewer funds available, traditional mailings have almost stopped being printed and mailed to FSA customers.
FSA improvements ahead
Dolcini explains the number of farmers and ranchers with smartphones and GPS are significant and growing every day. "Farmers are real technological innovators, and we're seeing as much technology in the average farming operation than any business," he says.
Born out of the New Deal, FSA and its predecessors, which first started in the Dust Bowl, have seen the roles and responsibilities of the agencies dramatically change, Dolcini says. "We're still the premier federal agency working with farmers and ranchers on a variety of programs. As farm bills evolve and farm needs, too, FSA evolves right along with it. Technology, and how we're better using it, is part of that evolutionary process."
Face-to-face interactions have always been the "heart and soul of what FSA offers," he says, and despite a dramatic drop in local office employees due to budget constraints, Dolcini assures that technology can help those in the offices be more responsive.
In addition, future enhancements will allow customers to make changes on their home computer and do so at their own convenience.
Producers have also been hoping to see crossover in the information provided to the Risk Management Agency for crop insurance information and the Farm Service Agency. Dolcini says a pilot project for acreage reporting is planned for this spring for the reporting system of the two agencies in select Illinois and Iowa counties.
"We didn't want to run before we knew how to walk on something like this," Dolcini says. He hopes to see a national approach sooner, rather than later, but declined to say how quickly a full rollout could occur.
FSA is also making advancements in changing its acreage and inventory reporting, and historical changes and analytics.
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