"This program saves America's farmers and ranchers time, energy and money, and it is an example of how USDA is harnessing the power of the Internet to better serve producers," says Veneman. "The pilot program is part of the Administration's e-Government initiative, the government-wide effort to use technology to better serve individuals and businesses across the country."

The program allows producers to apply for and receive LDPs online from remote locations such as their homes or offices. Participating farmers no longer have to travel to USDA Service Centers to receive their benefits. As a result, the program reduces paperwork load and speeds up payment processing.

The voluntary service has stringent security measures to protect participants' private information. Just like traditional LDPs, only authorized federal employees are given access to information that is submitted electronically.

To participate in the voluntary e-LDP pilot, producers must meet all eligibility requirements for marketing assistance loans and LDPs. Producers of the following crops may participate in the program: barley, corn, grain sorghum, oats, peanuts, rice, soybeans and wheat. Producers of rice and peanuts can now participate in the program, a change from the first phase of the pilot program. Eligible producers can choose to receive LDPs for their crops in lieu of marketing assistance loans. An LDP is the difference between the loan rate at a given location and the market price for the applicable commodity.

The 29 new counties in which the pilot program is being implemented are: Cherokee County, Ala.; Delta County, Alaska; Pinal County, Ariz.; Glenn County, Calif.; Adams County, Colo.; Windham County, Conn.; Sussex County, Del.; Calhoun County, Fla.; Mitchell County, Ga.; Honolulu County, Hawaii; Latah County, Idaho; Waldo County, Maine; Harford County, Md.; Hampshire County, Mass.; Montgomery County, Miss.; Humboldt County, Nev.; Coos County, N.H.; Burlington County, N.J.; Dona Ana County, N.M.; Monroe County, N.Y.; Gilliam County, Ore.; Washington County, R.I.; Sumter County, S.C.; Box Elder County, Utah; Caledonia County, Vt.; Westmoreland County, Va.; Whitman County, Wash.; Mason County, W.Va.; and Goshen County, Wyo.

The e-LDP program has been piloted in the following 21 counties since May 2002: Cross County, Ark.; Cass County, Ill.; Adams County, Ind.; Jasper County, Iowa; Marshall County, Kan.; Christian County, Ky.; East Carroll County, La.; Jackson County, Mich.; Lyon County, Minn.; Nodaway County, Mo.; Chouteau County, Mont.; York County, Neb.; Sampson County, N.C.; Cass County, N.D.; Sandusky County, Ohio; Texas County, Okla.; Northumberland County, Pa.; Spink County, S.D.; Obion County, Tenn.; Collin County, Texas; and Jefferson County, Wis.

LDPs are offered to a producer who is eligible to obtain a nonrecourse marketing assistance loan, but who agrees to forgo the loan. The LDP rate equals the amount by which the applicable loan rate where the commodity is stored exceeds the alternative loan repayment rate for the respective commodity. The LDP equals the LDP rate times the quantity of the commodity for which the LDP is requested.

Participation in the pilot e-LDP program is limited to producers in the selected counties. The length of the pilot is yet to be determined. For more information on the pilot e-LDP service or other USDA programs, contact the USDA Service Center nearest you or your local FSA county office.