WASHINGTON, July 10, 2015 – The Agriculture Department is trying to track down as many as 10,000 farmers who haven’t reported compliance with conservation restrictions, but officials say the actual number of non-compliant farmers is likely much smaller.

The 2014 farm bill made conservation compliance a condition for obtaining subsidized crop insurance, a requirement that had been limited to commodity programs since 1996. The deadline for filing the necessary certification form was June 1.

The 10,000 producers represent 1.8 percent of the 561,000 policyholders nationwide.  Based on the outreach conducted so far, most of the 10,000 likely involve paperwork errors, mismatched IDs or possibly producers who have died or retired, the officials told Agri-Pulse, speaking on background. Some policyholders may have been unaware of the deadline to file the AD-1026 form.

“It’s going to be several people per state, a couple dozen at max” who are actually out of compliance, one official said.

In a briefing for industry and conservation groups, USDA officials  estimated they would need to contact about 2,500 farmers individually. In many circumstances, producers will be offered exemptions from the deadline.

A provision in the fiscal 2016 Agriculture appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee approved this week would delay the compliance until next year. USDA officials sought to emphasize what they portrayed as near complete compliance at this point.

“This overwhelming response is a product of USDA’s extensive outreach and the commitment of America’s farmers to be stewards of the land,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By investing in both American farmers and the health of our productive lands, we are ensuring future generations have access to fertile soil, healthy food supplies, and a strong rural economy.”

Adding conservation compliance to the crop insurance program primarily affected fruit and vegetable growers since grain, oilseed and cotton farmers already had to meet the requirements in order to participate in commodity programs. The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance raised concerns in May that USDA was experiencing a backlog in processing the certification forms.

David Graves, manager and secretary of the American Association of Crop Insurers, said Friday that USDA seems “to be making good progress” in locating farmers who have filed the certification.

Representatives of conservation groups also lauded USDA’s outreach efforts.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said there was no need to extend the deadline. “There is no issue or problem that such a delay would be solving,” he said.

The department said more than 50,000 reminder letters and postcards were sent to individual producers. Agencies also made over 25,000 phone calls and held informational meetings and training sessions for nearly 6,000 stakeholders.