For many decades, the USDA crop report has been a foundation to farm, insurance and conservation program implementation. More recently, the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI) has been launched to modernize USDA acreage reporting. ACRSI is joint initiative that involves the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and third-party contractors (agents). Goals of the acreage reporting initiative are to increase producer choice and reduce redundancy.
ACRSI has a history that can be traced back several years. In 2010, USDA held listening sessions between agency employees, producers and representatives of the precision farming industry. USDA received comments from the listening sessions suggesting it should sponsor an initiative to simplify and standardize acreage reporting processes, program dates, and data definitions across the various USDA programs. From those comments ACRSI was born and a pilot program was initiated. Departmental efforts to pilot and develop ACRSI in 2011 were not enough and as a result, ACRSI was temporarily halted. In 2014, at the prompting of several external groups, Congress mandated the failed ACRSI initiative in the form of law contained in the newly created Farm Bill. The law required that” a producer (or an agent of a producer) may report information, electronically (including geospatial data) or conventionally, to the Department; and (B) upon the request of the producer (or agent thereof) the Department of Agriculture electronically shares with the producer (or agent) in real time and without cost to the producer (or agent) the common land unit data, related farm level data, and other information of the producer”.
Since the 2014 Farm Bill, all of the ACRSI partners have worked together to develop common data standards (needs) that each particular agency has when collecting acreage reports. The group developed a common crop table and a clearing house that can take the reported data and convert it to each agency’s format.
To date, there have been two pilots that allow producers to submit an acreage report and to test how well the information is flowing between each agency and third parties. The first pilot in the spring of 2015 involved several counties in Illinois and Iowa. The latest pilot occurring during the fall of 2015 was opened up to all counties in 15 states. During the process, acreage reports were initially completed by producers in the comfort of their own home or with either FSA or crop insurance agent assistance. Once submitted, the information was then routed through the clearing house and available for all parties to use for any applicable program purposes (e.g. ARC/PLC, CRP Crop Insurance etc.). During the pilot, the producer was required to submit the acreage report once, but still sign two acreage reports – one for FSA and one for Crop Insurance. Eventually, when the program becomes permanent, the producer will be required to submit one acreage report for all crops with one signature.
To monitor progress of the pilot, NASCOE continues to have a task force assembled that consists of five County Office employees from all corners of the country. NASCOE has worked with department leadership to provide input and to ensure that employees are up to date on the developments of the initiative. Following the first pilot, NASCOE participated in the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to share their opinions on where the pilot succeeded and where it fell short. NASCOE has also been included in the FSA ACRSI briefings that occur weekly during this second pilot that wrapped up mid-January.
During this process it has been interesting to quantitatively see how efficient and accurate FSA is at handling acreage reports. FSA has completed the bulk of all the reporting (estimated 90%) in both of the pilots. The current rate of successful transmissions is around 85% for FSA and 60% for RMA. As part of the monitoring process, decision makers are determining how well the information is flowing, what the adoption rates are by both FSA and crop insurance agents and what verification/cleanup is needed to make it all work.
When decision makers review discrepancies between acreage reports submitted via all of the different methods, it becomes apparent that reports submitted by FSA are the most accurate. These pilots show what we all know, which is that FSA County Offices have a good footing when it comes to acreage reporting. ACRSI is about choice and at the successful end of the ACRSI pilot, producers will be able to choose whether to file their acreage reports with their local county office, crop insurance agent, or perhaps pay to file it with a third-party vendor. Sometimes our producers need an alternative to making a trip into the office and NASCOE supports increasing producer choices. However, NASCOE believes that the friendly and comprehensive “one-stop shop” that FSA offers, where producers can also update their records, file for benefits and visit with NRCS, will still be that preferred choice.
The pilot is scheduled to become a permanent program and go nationwide this spring. It will include all counties and all 2016 spring planted crops. When the pilot rolls out, we ask that employees be receptive to the idea of giving our producers a choice in where they report their crops and to participate with an open mind. Also, it will be important to keep in mind that the program is new and there will be quirks that need to be worked out and lots of questions left to answer. This is a great opportunity for FSA to show the quality of work that it produces while offering options to the producers it serves. Employees should get engaged, and remind our producers about our comprehensive services and offer our expertise. Together we can produce a good product of high value for both our producers and agents.
Respectfully submitted by,