FSA programs explained: Sodbuster or Swampbuster
The terms “sodbuster” or “swampbuster” are terms that predate my experience with the Farm Service Agency and most likely didn’t originate with the USDA. Yet, we utilize these terms to remind us of the highly erodible land and wetland compliance provisions. I guess sodbuster provision is more memorable than remembering highly erodible land conservation provision.
The 1985 Farm Bill established the conservation compliance requirements for producers utilizing USDA benefits. Although the provisions have been amended through other legislations and new farm bills, the sodbuster and swampbuster provisions remain in effect today for producers applying for certain USDA benefits.
Generally, most farmers and ranchers will see the sodbuster and swampbuster provisions twice a year if applying for benefits from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) or the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The first interaction with these provisions is seen when determining eligibility for farm programs. At the very least, producers must certify their adjusted gross income and certify compliance with highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation provisions. The latter is a three page form called an AD-1026 that asks specific questions to determine whether or not a producer is complying with the sodbuster or swampbuster provisions. This form needs only to be completed once unless changes to your operation require a different response. Such changes include creating new drainage systems not evaluated by the NRCS or planting an annual crop on land in which a highly erodible determination has not been made.
How do I know if a highly erodible land determination has been made? If a field is considered cropland by the FSA, usually a determination has been made. This is usually the second time that producer will see sodbuster provision in their interactions with the USDA. If you are a producer participating in farm programs, you should be reporting all crops on your farm to the FSA. The FSA provides a map of your operation detailing the field and tract boundaries. On these maps, each field will have a field number, the number of acres and a designation of HEL, NHEL, or UHEL. These designations are abbreviations of the highly erodible land determinations for that field. They stand for highly erodible, not highly erodible, or undetermined. Sodbuster provisions of the farm bill require any land planted to an annually tilled crop to have an erodibility determination to be made. If your field is determined to be highly erodible, then in order to be eligible for certain USDA programs, you are required to actively apply a conservation system to substantially reduce soil erosion or substantially improve soil conditions on a field or fields that contain highly erodible land. Producers may develop a conservation plan with the NRCS to address soil erosion and comply with sodbuster provisions, although not required if a conservation system is being applied.
The NRCS provides technical assistance for sodbuster and swampbuster provisions. As such, they make the determinations of whether a field is highly erodible and if you are compliant with such provisions.
Failure to comply with sodbuster or swampbuster provisions can result in loss of USDA benefits. However, farmers and ranchers are the best conservationist in the world as they have a vested interest in conserving the agricultural resources for today and future generations. Complying with these provisions tend to come naturally.
James R. Neill is the County Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Meade County, South Dakota and can be contacted at email@example.com. Questions about the highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation provisions should be directed to your local Farm Service Agency or Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
James R. Neill is the County Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Meade County (SD). Questions about disaster programs or any other program administered by the Farm Service Agency should be directed to your local Farm Service Agency Service Center.