USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service county offices in Iowa are open by appointment only as a precautionary measure in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Making the announcement in late March, agency officials said this order will stay in place until further notice.
Best course of action for farmers is to call the local office to schedule an appointment before visiting any USDA Service Center. Online services are also available at farmers.gov.
FSA and NRCS staff are available to continue helping farmers with program sign-ups, questions, loan servicing and other important actions. Also, FSA is relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibility for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.
“FSA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only,” says Amanda DeJong, state executive director for FSA. “While our program staff will continue to come into the local office, they will be working with producers by phone and using email and online tools whenever possible.”
Serving clients, using caution
“FSA programs and loans are critical to Iowa farmers and we want to continue our work with customers while taking precautionary measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” DeJong says. “We know farm loans are critical for annual operating and family living expenses, emergency needs and cash flow through times like this. FSA is working to find and use every option and flexibility to provide producers with credit options and other program benefits.”
FSA is delivering programs and services such as farm loans, commodity loans, the farm storage facility loan program and disaster assistance programs. This includes farmers now eligible because of losses due to excess rain in 2018 and 2019. Also available are the safety net programs, including 2020 sign-up for the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, conservation programs, and acreage reports.
Relaxing loan-making process
FSA is relaxing the loan-making process for farm loans, including:
- extending the deadline for applicants to complete farm loan applications
- preparing documents for FSA’s Direct Loan Program even if FSA is unable to complete lien and record searches because of closed government buildings (Once those searches are complete, FSA would close the loan.)
- closing loans if the required lien position on the primary security is perfected (This will be done even for loans that require additional security, and the lien searches, filings and recordings cannot be obtained because of closed government buildings.)
FSA is extending deadlines for producers to respond to loan servicing actions, including loan deferral consideration for financially distressed and delinquent borrowers. FSA will temporarily suspend loan accelerations, nonjudicial foreclosures, and referring of foreclosures to the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. attorney’s office will determine whether to stop foreclosures and evictions on accounts under its jurisdiction.
Servicing guaranteed loans
DeJong also says guaranteed lenders can self-certify, providing their borrowers with subsequent-year operating loan advances on lines of credit, and emergency advances on lines of credit. FSA will consider guaranteed lender requests for:
- temporary payment deferral consideration when borrowers do not have a feasible plan reflecting that family living expenses, operating expenses and debt can be repaid
- temporary forbearance consideration for borrowers on loan liquidation and foreclosure actions
Contacting FSA and NRCS
The two agencies will be accepting additional forms and applications by facsimile or electronic signature. Some services are also available online to customers with an eAuth account, which provides access to the farmers.gov portal where producers can view USDA farm loan information and payments, and view and track certain USDA program applications and payments.
Customers can track payments, report completed practices, request conservation assistance and electronically sign documents. Customers who do not already have an eAuth account can enroll at farmers.gov/sign-in.
FSA and NRCS encourage farmers to contact their county office to discuss programs and temporary changes to farm loan deadlines and the loan servicing options available. For Service Center contact information, visit farmers.gov/coronavirus.
Many ag businesses are also adjusting their office procedures this spring. For example, New Cooperative, headquartered at Fort Dodge has instructed its staff to conduct as much business as possible via electronic methods such as phone calls, text messaging and email. The west-central Iowa co-op has closed public gathering areas to visitors at all locations and is encouraging customers to use its mobile app to sign grain contracts. Customers are asked to call ahead for orders to be picked up at New Co-op facilities and wait in their vehicle while it is loaded.