There has been a lot of information coming out about conservation programs in the new farm bill. Farmers applying to these programs may not always get the answers they want. Farmers can also often disagree with wetland delineations and the determinations of NRCS. In these cases, there is a special appeal process farmers may not be aware of when dealing with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA’s National Appeals Division (NAD) operates as a part of USDA but independent of the rest of the USDA agencies and programs. The NAD reports directly to the Secretary of Agriculture. As stated on the USDA website, the sole mission of the NAD “is to provide fair and timely hearings and appeals to USDA program participants.” The NAD is not bound by the internal policies of the other USDA programs and agencies and can make independent decisions that may conflict with the internal workings of other programs.
Any person that receives an adverse decision from Farm Service Agency, Rural Housing Service, Risk Management Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Business Cooperative Service, or the Rural Utilities Service may file an appeal with the NAD to challenge that decision. This can include NRCS wetland determinations. The appeal process can give you a chance to introduce evidence that you think was overlooked or discounted in the agency’s decision making process. The information used to challenge the agency’s decision can be new information that is discovered after the adverse decision has been made.
The appeal must be postmarked or faxed no later than 30 days after an individual receives the agency’s decision. The appeal must include in writing the reasons why an individual feels that the agency’s decision is incorrect. Sending a copy of the appeal to the office you received the decision from may help in the appeal process as they will have notice that the NAD will be contacting them regarding the decision. In Minnesota, the appeal must be sent to the Eastern Regional Office at 8909 Purdue Road, Suite 240, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46268 or faxed to 317-875-9674.
Partaking in the appeal process may be a very important step for a farmer. In some cases, an individual may not be able to challenge an agency decision in court if they did not exhaust all of their administrative remedies. The NAD appeal process is in some cases the administrative remedy that will need to be completed before a lawsuit may commence. Failure to follow the NAD process will result in the agency decision standing permanently.
More information on the NAD is available online at http://www.nad.usda.gov/. Their website also includes past decisions of the NAD that may help farmers to challenge the determination that they have received.