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Published December 21, 2010, 10:27 AM

Montana durum farmers await FSA action on ACRE

FARGO, N.D. — More than a year after farmers in the Plentywood, Mont., area cried foul over the local handling of the Average Crop Revenue Election program for durum in 2009, their case remains unresolved. They still say misinformation and discrimination cost them big bucks.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — More than a year after farmers in the Plentywood, Mont., area cried foul over the local handling of the Average Crop Revenue Election program for durum in 2009, their case remains unresolved. They still say misinformation and discrimination cost them big bucks.

Jerry Thuesen of Reserve, Mont., says he was among 20 to 25 farmers who were interviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General staff last summer in an audit of how the FSA handled the program. The farmers appealed their status in the ACRE program. (“Hosed!: ACRE program snafu costs Montana growers millions” — Agweek, Jan. 4, 2010.)

A State Farm Service Agency spokeswoman says she had been instructed to refer Agweek’s inquiry about the status of the case to a national FSA spokesperson, but the spokesperson did not contact Agweek in time for this story.

ACRE was part of the 2008 farm bill, designed as a revenue-based alternative to help replace conventional federal prices support programs.

Participants in ACRE received revenue protection, but gave up 20 percent reduction in their direct payments, got a 30 percent reduction in loan rates and lost 100 percent of their countercyclical payments.

Incorrect info

Thuesen and others say they signed up for the ACRE program before a Aug. 14, 2009, deadline, but say they got incorrect information. They assert two main problems.

First, some producers in Montana’s Sheridan County say the local Farm Service Agency officials told them that if they signed up for ACRE they’d receive a 30 percent cut in their loan deficiency payment. Instead, they received the 30 percent cut in the loan rate, meaning they got no or low LDPs under the program.

Terry Angvick was Sheridan County Extension Service agricultural agent in Plentywood, Mont., at the time of the ACRE implementation. Angvick says the incorrect FSA information — some of which he acknowledges he repeated in his extension role — cost some 47 farms a total of about $1.5 million in 2009.

That impact extended into 2010 because once participants chose ACRE, it was the remainder of the farm bill.

A second issue is whether the county FSA personnel incorrectly implemented a “register” system that allowed some farmers in the county to have an extra 45 days to opt out of the program.

The register was designed to allow the producer to gather landlord signatures — effectively allowing them extra time to assess the market consequences and opt out. Some farmers — like Angvick and Thuesen — weren’t told that the register existed, so had to live with their ACRE decision.

Moving on

Angvick, 54, retired from his Extension Service job June 30, after serving 31 years in the agency. He says the cash-strapped agency had offered buyouts to employees who had a full federal appointment, which he did. He says the ACRE snafu didn’t have “anything” to do with his decision to retire, though he acknowledges that the OIG had asked him whether it did.

“If anything, I considered not retiring because of it,” he says.

He says retirement made sense because his farm took on 1,200 more acres and he was needed on the farm.

Angvick is involved in three farming entities that all had a $115,000 stake in the ACRE decision for 2009.

He acknowledges that ACRE payments were made in 2010 for the 2009 year, but totaled $25,000 on his operations.

In 2010, Thuesen and other producers enrolled in ACRE in the county still applied for their LDPs, as though they were not enrolled in ACRE, to preserve their rights under the appeal. Thuesen calculates the ACRE decision cost him $90,000 in 2009.

Thuesen was a member of the state FSA committee for eight years in the Bush administration.

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