A Guide to Accessing Farm Service Agency Programs

By:  Dean Kreager, Extension Educator, ANR in Licking County

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is one of the agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Originally established in the 1930’s to provide a safety net for farmers during the great depression, their services have evolved over the years.  The benefits of services offered by FSA are often underutilized.  This may be due to fear of difficulty working with a government agency or just not knowing the extent of services that exist.  Many do not realize that FSA provides services to all types of farms and farmers and not just large conventional farms and ranches.

The FSA is trying to improve its reach of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  The USDA defines socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (SDFRs) as those belonging to groups that have been subject to racial or ethnic prejudice. SDFRs include farmers who are Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian or Pacific Islander. For some but not all USDA programs, the SDFR category also includes women.

Often, FSA offices are associated with price support programs and disaster payments, but their services go way beyond that.  The agency provides a safety net for farmers of all types and sizes.  Loans, conservation practice cost shares and disaster payments are just a few of their services.  OSU Extension has been working to spread the word about several FSA programs that can help all types of farmers be successful.

If having a safety net in case of natural disasters or catastrophic events such as COVID, access to very low interest loans even for those that are unable to qualify for conventional loans, or the ability to receive financial assistance for conservation related improvements is important, now is the time to register your farm with FSA.  Registering your farm with FSA and signing up for the county FSA newsletters will keep you informed about services that can benefit you.

Getting your farm enrolled in the system is not a difficult process. Call or set up an appointment to visit your local FSA office.  Most counties have an office.  If you are unsure which FSA office services your county, please visit:  https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=oh&agency=fsa. If you do not have a farm number, they can assign one.  You do not necessarily need to own the property to qualify.  Leasing may qualify you depending on the program.

During your first visit, be sure to bring:

  • Proof of identity (driver’s license, social security card, IRS EIN number)
  • Proof of Ownership (copy of recorded deed)
  • Leases for non-owned land
  • For partnerships, entities, or joint operations, bring entity Identification Status (articles of incorporation, trust & estate documents, or partnership agreement to determine who has authority to make decisions for the business).

When you go in for your appointment you can expect to sit down with an FSA employee that will verify your paperwork and register your farm in the system.  They will talk with you about your operation and possible ways they can be of assistance to help you succeed in meeting your goals.  You may learn of options that you did not know exist.

FSA will provide the application and help answer any questions the producer has on the programs. It takes time for the paperwork to be processed and additional information may be needed. Please start this process early in order to ensure you are eligible prior to any program sign-up cut-off dates. Some programs have cut off dates while others have open enrollment throughout the year.

Once you are registered in the system you will receive notifications about new programs and changes to existing programs.  Participating in future programs will be much easier.  Please contact your local FSA office with questions and to get the process started.

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