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More information on farmers: USDA completes payment database

USDA's Farm Service Agency has completed its Section 1614 database, a massive computer document that is supposed to provide even more information about the amount of money farmers receive in government payments than was previously available.

The database, named for the authorizing section of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, was part of a compromise measure offered as an alternative to a proposal by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., to cap payments at $250,000 per individual.

“The 2002 farm bill required us to develop a database that attributes payments to individuals, instead of stopping at the level of corporations and co-ops,” said Teresa Lasseter, administrator of the Farm Service Agency.

She said the database just completed contains more than 64 million records and required thousands of hours of work by FSA employees. No estimate of the total cost of the project was available at press time.

Section 1614 pertains to 2002 farm bill Title I and Title II programs or commodity and conservation payments made by FSA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Commodity Credit Corp. Other programs administered by USDA are not included.

The process required the compilation of more than 350 million financial transactions, contained in multiple databases, into one database that tracks attribution of payments to individuals.

Lasseter said the 1614 database is not the official record of payments to producers by the Commodity Credit Corp. In many cases, historical data necessary to create the database had to be recreated using the best available records as compiled from FSA's 2,346 offices.

The official record of payments is contained in other data files that have been publicly available for several years and have been reported on the Environmental Working Group's Web site and other public forums.

“The database is best characterized as a research project, not a compliance database or system of record,” said a paper distributed by USDA. “The best use of the database is to analyze the effects of payment limits and to understand the distribution of payments and how potential changes in legislation would affect these distributions.

“Caution should be used when attempting to identify specific payments to specific entities or individuals.”

It covers more than $56 billion in total benefits to more than 2 million persons who have received payments in the period Oct. 1, 2002, through June 30, 2006, according to the USDA paper.

“The database lists names and addresses, including detailed information on more than 63 million transactions,” it said. “Individual payment shares are indicated on each transaction detail record, linking the parent entity and the ultimate beneficiary. Benefits are stored by calendar date and can be summarized by fiscal year, crop year or calendar year.”

For the first time, data from co-ops is integrated into the database to reflect individual benefits attributed to co-op members (rather than one large amount such as the $40 million payment cited for Riceland Foods during a congressional debate on payment limits).

Full data are available for crop years 2003 and 2004 and partial data for 2002.

Co-op payment data for crop year 2005 will be submitted in 2007 and included in a future version of the 1614 database.

Due to the size of the database, USDA says it will be unable to make it available via the Internet.

Copies of the database on DVD may be obtained by writing to 1614 Database, Farm Service Agency, 6501 Beacon Drive — Mail Stop 8388, Kansas City, MO 64133-4676. Written requests can also be faxed to (816) 448-5833 or e-mailed to [email protected].

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