Agriculture's Set-Aside Programs Should Be Improved

CED-80-9: Published: Jan 11, 1980. Publicly Released: Jan 11, 1980.

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The Department of Agriculture's wheat and feed grain set-aside programs are intended to reduce expected surpluses of particular crops. In return for taking acreage out of production, producers are eligible for commodity loans and purchases as well as deficiency, disaster, and diversion payments. A review of producer compliance with the programs' requirements identified certain areas in which the effectiveness of the programs could be improved.

Most producers in the counties reviewed complied with the set-aside requirements. However, some were allowed to receive program benefits without fulfilling these requirements. County Agriculture Department officials and local, farmer elected, county committees were responsible for determining compliance. To participate in the programs, producers certified their planted and set-aside acres. County Agricultural officials were responsible for determining the accuracy of the certificates. Producers who certified their acreage inaccurately could be denied participation in the program, or if they had acted in good faith, assessed a monetary penalty. The programs were implemented in a short time and when staffing at the county offices was low. Criteria for good faith determinations were vague. As a result, the committees generally found that producers had acted in good faith even when the reasons given did not justify allowing them to ramain in the programs. Monetary penalties were not always applied when they should have been, were not applied consistently, and were costly to administer. A stricter certification and compliance program was needed to ensure compliance, simplify program administration, and reduce county office workload. Land to be set-aside should have been part of a farm's normal crop acreage. However, GAO found several cases where the acreages did not represent the farm's normal plantings, were established contrary to instructions, or were otherwise questionable.

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