The U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers and landowners to contact their county USDA Farm Service Agency office to make an appointment to sign up for the 2002 Farm Program. The sign-up will require landowners to choose one of the five base acreage and yield options available to them.

Now is a good time to do the Farm Program sign-up to get it done before the last-minute rush. There are a number of items to consider before making the sign-up choice. Some of these are:

1) Are program crop yields from 1998 through 2001 better than the 2002 production flexibility contract (PFC) yields that were established in 1985? If so, proving those yields will increase counter-cyclical payments when these payments are implemented during periods of low prices.

2) Were base acres planted to program crops from 1998 through 2001, or did the farm diversify into other crops to reduce risk from diseases such as scab? If additional acres of program crops were planted during the four-year period, it may pay to update base acres. However, if base acres were not planted to program crops, the farm may not even have eligible oilseed acres available to add to the base, even though oilseeds may have been planted on the farm every year.

3) Gather up production records showing crop acreage planted from 1998 through 2001. Also, list acres and crops that were prevent-planted. If oilseeds can be added to the base or if other crop yields can be updated, then visit FSA and pick up form 658-P to record production. Even though proof is not required at sign-up, every farm will be audited before the end of the program. It will be much less hectic to collect the information now rather than during the planting or harvesting season.

4) Oilseed production will be used to establish base acres and yields. Thus, it is very important to provide yield data for those crops. Plug yields (75 percent of the county average) will be used where no yield data is available, but actual production will normally be a much better choice when available. Use form 658-P to show 1998 through 2001 production.

5) Look at each tract, especially if you are producing fruits or vegetables. There may be an opportunity to divide a farm and gain base acres.

6) Landowners whose farm is combined with others into a farm unit need to look at their tract to see if it should be separated out. In some cases, landowners could gain base acres. Also in some cases, their old PFC yields were better than the 1998-2001 combined farm yields. In those cases, dividing out the tract into a new farm number would make sense.

7) Watch for deadlines for reconstitutions too, since these will need to be completed several weeks before the sign-up deadline. Sign up early to avoid the rush.

8) The Base and Yield Update Option Analyzer calculator shows the economic consequences of each option and is available on several Web sites. One of these is the Farm Service Agency website at www.fsa.usda.gov/. The calculator is also linked to the University of Minnesota Extension Service website at http://www.extension.umn.edu. Click on the "2002 Farm Bill" icon.

County FSA staff can answer questions, but are not allowed to discuss which options to choose. However, additional help is available through county Extension offices and MnSCU Farm Business Management Programs.