This year has been full of challenges and changes – and we’re not even done with the year yet. Whether it’s how you shop, where you eat lunch, or when you are able to get together with friends and family – things are definitely different.

Positive changes continue at USDA

Ivan Dozier

Conducting business with local staff at USDA Service Centers has been affected as well. We’ve had to change the way we staff our offices to reduce direct contact with co-workers and customers. It’s not the way we are used to interacting, and I know it has complicated things for farmers. I want to thank all our customers for their patience and willingness to be flexible and find new ways of getting the old things done.

I also want to recognize USDA employees across Illinois and the nation for their hard work and extra efforts to deliver programs and paperwork, and for doing so in safe and careful ways. The new and safer COVID-19 protocols require each of us to work in different ways, in different places and to use different tools.

Even before we were faced with the challenges of the pandemic, we recognized the value of having ways to conduct business remotely. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) unveiled the Conservation Client Gateway (CCG) about five years ago. CCG’s national portal offered a digital way for farmers to conduct business, sign documents, and review plans and paperwork by using a cellphone or home computer.

Illinois farmers were among the most active and regular users of CCG across the country. But as of Oct. 15, CCG has been officially retired. It was replaced with a new digital tool that provides all of the same features.

The new digital portal for getting your business done at USDA is at {Farmers.gov}. The best part is you can access NRCS services through {Farmers.gov} and this same portal allows you to check on payments, loans and documents from both the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency (RMA).

If you were already using CCG and had a login and account set up, you are automatically able to use the new {Farmers.gov} tool. If you haven’t set things up and you’re interested in doing so, just call your local USDA partners or visit the {Farmers.gov} portal to learn more.

Current CCG customer users can use their existing eAuthentication login and password to access the conservation features on Farmers.gov. Farmers.gov customer-submitted assistance requests and related employee notifications are integrated with the NRCS Conservation Desktop (CD).

Through Farmers.gov, farmers can:

• View, upload, download and e-sign documents;

• Request conservation assistance;

• Request financial assistance or submit a program application;

• View and request application details;

• Reference technical terms and submit questions;

• Access information on current and past conservation practices;

• Report practice completion and request practice certification;

• View detailed information on all previous and ongoing contracts, including cost-share assistance received and anticipated; and

• Have authority for FSA and NRCS customers to work in the portal and act on behalf of active power-of-attorney entitlements and current authorities for business entities.

Farmers without login information for Farmers.gov may create a login profile or establish eAuthentication by following the instructions at Farmers.gov/sign-in. The Conservation Features User Guide gives step-by-step instructions on how to navigate Farmers.gov. How-to video instructions and a fact sheet explain some of the popular features.

If farmers need more help, personal assistance is available at the Farmers.gov Service Desk by selecting the “Help” link located at the top of the authenticated portal pages and submitting a “Contact Us” request.

I like to think of it as mirroring the setup of our local county offices with conveniently colocated USDA agencies. There are even some new features to help those who may not be as familiar with our programs and direct them to the proper agency, depending on what they would like to do. As more content and capabilities are added, Farmers.gov is quickly becoming the online hub for farmers to find resources, submit applications and request assistance.

Don’t think we don’t want to visit with you in person any longer because we do! Even when we get back to normal staffing arrangements, one-on-one communication and site visits are still just as critical to us. We need to ensure we have sound conservation plans and that we help you select the right conservation practices to address your resource concerns, fit your land and meet your management needs.

Just remember, NRCS and USDA are here to be of service to you American farmers. Life is always changing. We can never stop embracing the need to adapt, especially when the changes can make life a little more convenient.

Ivan Dozier serves as Illinois state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.