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Farm bill sign-up deadline looms

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The clock is ticking, and there are only a few days left to make the trek to your local Farm Service Agency office that you've been putting off for weeks.

Tuesday, April 1, is the last day to update base and yields options for program commodities under the 2002 farm bill, and March 31 is the deadline for peanut producers to designate peanut base and yield information to a farm. Sign-up for the 2003 direct and counter-cyclical program ends June 2.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman reminds growers, "The 2002 farm bill provides a one-time opportunity to update base and yields," says. "We encourage farm owners, operators and producers to take advantage of this opportunity by visiting their respective USDA Service Center before April 1."

In some counties, the office workload is very heavy and some producers may not be able to get an appointment before the sign-up deadline. In those cases, USDA says, producers must contact their county office and indicate their intention to sign up and obtain an appointment for as soon after April as possible.

"USDA's service centers continue to make all possible efforts to accommodate producers prior to April 1 through a combination of extending office hours, shifting personnel among counties, and adding temporary personnel to assist with administrative functions," Veneman says. "In those cases where appointments cannot be obtained before April 1, producers will not lose the opportunity to make the base and yield election."

As of March 26, the Farm Service Agency reports that 65 percent of farms nationwide have signed up under the 2002 farm bill. In the Mid-South, 80 percent of Arkansas farmers have completed the paperwork necessary to update bases and/or yields. Program sign-up stands at 64.8 percent in Mississippi, 64.5 percent in Louisiana and 72.9 percent in Tennessee.

USDA says it expects 25 to 30 percent of producers to take the default option provided in the 2002 farm bill, which maintains a farm's current bases and yield, and add any applicable oilseed acres.

e-mail: Doreen Muzzi

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