Actively Engaged Rule: Help Put a Cork In It!

Make Your Voice Heard: Submit Comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Today!

The Farm Service Agency of USDA is seeking public comments on the proposed rule regarding “actively engaged in farming” requirements that determine eligibility for farm program payments. Public comments are due Tuesday, May 26, 2015. USDA needs to hear from as many voices as possible - farmers, rural community members, all of us!

USDA will accept comments submitted online or through the mail. You can use the sample materials below to get started! It is important to personalize your comments - USDA will read every single submission, and unique comments have the most impact!

Step 1 - Get informed! Read our analysis of the proposed “actively engaged in farming” rule to see where we think the rule fails and what they need to change.

Step 2 - Customize your comments! We provide a sample comment letter below for you to use, but it is important to add personal touches. They read each and every comment so it is critical for them to include your personal stories or thoughts! All you need to do is add in a sentence or two as to why you feel strongly about each of the three areas we are asking them to fix.

Step 3 - Submit your comments online where you can type (or copy and paste from another document) your comments right in the comment box. Be sure and include the RIN number, volume, date and page number of the Federal Register that is all listed below in the sample comment below. Here are some helpful tips for submitting comments on regulations.You can also mail your comments to the following:

James Baxa, Production, Emergencies, and Compliance Division, FSA, U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), Stop 0501
1400 Independence Ave. SW.,
Washington, DC 20250–0501

Sample Comment

Re: Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility; Actively Engaged in Farming

RIN: 0560-A131; Vol. 80, No. 58; Page Number 15916.

I am a __________ (if you are a farmer, state that, if not, state that you are a concerned citizen)

Customize your comment with your story here:

If you are a farmer, what is the name and location of your farm? What do you produce and how long have you been farming? Why is it important that there be tight definition as to who qualifies for farm program payments and that we have real and effective payment limits?

If you are not a farmer, why is it important for you to ensure the largest and wealthiest farms are not able to receive unlimited farm program payments? What impact do you see from unlimited farm program payments? Has it helped drive consolidation of agriculture in and around your community?

Payment Limitations and the actively engaged rule are vital to ensuring the farm program is not abused by the largest and wealthiest farms. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has missed the mark when it comes to writing an effective rule that will stop such abuse.

I am pleased to see that FSA is asking for specific feedback on some of the key areas of this proposed rule. Below are recommendations that I urge FSA to make to this proposed rule before it is finalized.

1. The new payment eligibility rule should apply to all farms, regardless if they are made up of family members, non-family members or a combination.

In soliciting public comment, FSA asks if this proposed rule should be applied to all farming operations and not just those with general partnerships and joint venture farm operations that are made up of non-family members. The answer to that is as simple as it is critical - yes, the proposed actively engaged standard should apply to all farms regardless of their structure.

The proposed rule contains two positive elements - a detailed definition of activities qualifying as farm management and a quantifiable test to determine whether someone supplying only management and no labor is actively engaged in farming. Unfortunately, these positive steps forward are completely negated by the rest of the rule, including the provision limiting their application to only a percent or two of all farms.

It is highly unlikely that under the new proposed rule any of the mega farms involved will have their subsidies limited. Instead, they will reorganize the business to eliminate non-family members thus avoiding the new rules altogether. For those who choose not to reorganize, the proposed rule still provides a relatively easy path for mega farms to secure over a million dollars a year.

As has been the case ever since USDA put the loopholes into the implementing regulations in 1987,under the new proposed rule mega farms will be allowed to continue to skirt the farm bill payment limit, using taxpayer money to outbid beginning farmers and small and mid-sized farms for land and leases, leading to less diversity, fewer opportunities for those wanting to farm and the erosion of our rural communities.

I urge you to adopt a final rule that institutes a fair and equitable rule that applies to all farms and all types of farming entities.

2. Nothing in the rule should qualify a farm for more than one payment.

The proposed rule states that a farm operation that signs up one additional farm manager are exempt from the new rule and eligible nonetheless to receive up to four full payment limits. Moreover, if the farm is over 2,500 acres and “complex” they sign up two additional farm managers to maximize their farm program payments. Assuming all the farm managers are married, the farm would be eligible for at least eight payment limits worth of subsidies, or one million dollars or more a year.

A farm can have as many farm managers as they so desire, but there is simply zero justification as to why Federal taxpayers are paying for these additional managers through farm program subsidies.

The FSA must close this ridiculous loophole and ensure that the payment limit written into statute, $125,000 per farm, is the real payment limitation with no way to game the system.

3.  FSA should adopt a 1,000 hours of labor and/or management, or at least 500 hours of management, as the standard for determining whether someone is actively engaged in farming, without exception.

To ensure the program is not abused, FSA should adopt a simple and straightforward final rule. People should qualify as actively engaged in farming if they work half time on the farm (calculated using any combination of labor and management) or at least half of their commensurate share of the farming operation. Anyone seeking to qualify solely on the basis of management, without supplying any actual farming work on the farm, should be required to provide at least 500 hours of management annually, or at least half of their commensurate share of the farming operation’s total management requirement. In no event should layering on more management-only persons qualify the farm for more than a single payment limit.