By Tony Jarboe, NFU Communications Coordinator

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has undertaken an initiative to make some major technological changes that will centralize farmers’ and ranchers’ data, and help the agency deliver services and payments more quickly.

The initiative, known as “Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems,” or MIDAS, takes data that is currently found in roughly 12 different locations and compiles it into a centralized database. The new system will help FSA improve customer service, reduce redundancy of data submission, and expedite implementation of programs.

The new system makes it easier for farmers and FSA agents to access forms and data. Also, when filling out new forms, data from other locations can be pulled in so farmers and ranchers are not giving the same information multiple times on multiple forms.

Obtaining Marketing Assistance Loans is just one of many tasks that will become easier when MIDAS is implemented. Currently, the process of obtaining a Marketing Assistance Loan from the beginning to the end takes approximately 170 forms. That number will be greatly reduced, as will many other processes, with the new technological rollout.

FSA conducted a number of listening sessions to find what farmers and ranchers wanted, and one of the most common requests for farmers was the ability to view their agricultural and acreage reports online. Eventually, farmers and ranchers will also be able sign up for programs and fill out forms online.

MIDAS will also help with workflow. Since the data will be electronic, neighboring county offices will be able to help pick up the slack when an office is inundated with work and requests.

These new technological changes will not be implemented right away. A limited number of technological changes will be rolled out in September 2012 to allow testing of new changes and ensure the bugs are worked out before the full rollout in late 2013 or early 2014. The first rollout will only be available to FSA offices, so farmers and ranchers won’t be able to take full advantage of the new system until the later rollout. This timeline is based on the current budget, so if some of the rumored budget cuts for USDA come to fruition, the rollout may be pushed back.

Big changes are on the horizon for the FSA. These changes, once fully implemented, will make it easier for farmers and ranchers to fill out necessary forms for USDA programs and view their reports online. FSA agents will also be able to more easily and quickly access information, centralizing info that is currently in more than a dozen places. This centralization will make it easier to process forms and payments, ensuring farmers and ranchers receive what they need more quickly in order to ensure that they can continue producing food, feed, fuel, and fiber for everyone.

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