Online access to government farm records is reaching a new level. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that growers will be able to access all their USDA accounts through a Web site. Instead of visiting USDA offices, growers can work online to handle government business. The program is password protected and available 24 hours a day.

The online program, Customer Statement Guide, provides unprecedented access to business activities with USDA. Components from various USDA agencies are combined into one report for each grower. The report contains information such as the grower's farm loans, conservation contracts and total government benefits. In the next year, more capabilities will be added to the Customer Statement.

“Farmers have never had access like this to their information,” reports Scott Charbo, USDA chief information officer. “Maybe they had to go to multiple USDA offices, which could be 100 miles apart.” USDA Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman pushed for the new online system to provide farmers with an easy way to reach government records.

Security issues

Because privacy is a concern, authorization to view all personal records online requires a USDA office visit for “identity proofing.” However, a grower may first receive a Level 1 authorization that requires only online registration. Growers may visit certain USDA Web sites with this level. Level 2 allows growers to fill out and submit USDA documents electronically.

In the next few months, more USDA programs will be available online at the Customer Statement Guide, Charbo adds. For example, growers will be able to access insurance records and certify acreage online.

To obtain the Level 1 authorization, you may register online at www.eauth.egov.usda.gov. Scroll down and click on “sign up for a Level 1 account” and fill out the profile. After receiving a confirmation e-mail, you must respond to it within seven days to activate the account.

Level 2 accounts are more detailed. Again, go to www.eauth.egov.usda. gov and scroll down to the “sign up for a Level 2 account.” Fill out the customer profile and submit it online. Respond to the confirmation e-mail to activate your account. Then you must visit a local USDA Service Center to present your photo ID to an employee who will verify the information and approve the Level 2 account.

John Deere's plug-in

Tying into USDA's online focus, John Deere Ag Management Solutions (AMS) is developing a Conservation Plug-in that allows growers to download conservation plans directly to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). AMS started work on the software for the plug-in a year ago. It will be ready for use this fall.

The plug-in lets producers complete certain conservation activities and send them electronically to NRCS. It is similar to e-filing tax returns. Growers and technical service providers will be able to record farm and field data, schedule conservation practices and report completion of the practices with the plug-in. Certification documents may be attached. Growers will be able to reduce the number of visits to their local NRCS office, and the office will be able to process the plans and information more quickly.

USDA's Charbo states, “The Conservation Plug-In is one example of what USDA and our agriculture partners are doing to improve and enhance Internet technology for government, our partners and agricultural producers alike.”