FSA backtracks on refund demands

After mandating Texas cucumber growers in Texas Terry and Hockley counties return already-paid 2002 Crop Disaster Assistance Program and Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, the Farm Service agency has reversed course.

An Oct. 25 letter from John T. Fuston, state executive director for the Texas State FSA office, to the Hockley County FSA Office executive director, states: “This memorandum formally advises that the Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs has withdrawn the adverse determinations for the subject 2001 and 2002 NAP and Crop Disaster Program applications on cucumbers. Please notify the subject producers that the decision has been withdrawn and that offsets taken to satisfy the resulting debts will be refunded immediately and any remaining balances are no longer due.”

The letter goes on to outline the steps counties should complete in order to refund monies already offset.

“I had a pre-hearing teleconference scheduled for October 26, and when I called in, no one else was there,” says Bill Arens, who owns Farm Planning Service in Morton, Texas, and was representing 14 farmers and 28 landlords in the two counties in appeals to the National Appeals Division (NAD) at the United States Department of Agriculture. “I called the state office to find out what was going on, and they said, ‘Haven’t you heard? The ruling was reversed.’”

Needless to say, Arens adds, he and his clients are very pleased with this turn of events.

“In the Terry and Hockley County cases, they [FSA] said they were wrong,” he says.

Cucumber growers in Texas’ Uvalde, Medina and Frio counties also prevailed in a recent effort to receive payment from FSA on failed acreage in 2003-2004.

Calls to the Texas State FSA office seeking comment on the Terry and Hockley County decision were not immediately returned.

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