A federal spotlight has been placed on the Wiregrass area due to farmer’s filing an unusually high number of claims for a little known federal assistance program. The program in question is called the “Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program”, or the “NAP program” for short.
This is a federal program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) which provides protection from natural disasters for farmer’s growing crops for which crop insurance is unavailable.
A local Wiregrass employee of the FSA has been indicted in federal court for filing fraudulent NAP claims, and speculation is that other farmers in the area may also be under investigation.
In the Houston County area, private crop insurance is generally available for commodities such as peanuts and cotton, while farmers cannot obtain insurance on produce crops such as watermelons and squash. As a result, many farmers cannot obtain the financing they need to purchase supplies necessary to plant the high risk crops. This is where NAP protection becomes available for commercial farmer’s.
“Eligible Producers” can apply for this NAP insurance from the federal government, which provides protection up to approximately $125,000 in the event of total crop loss due to a natural disaster, such as flooding or drought.
The question many have been asking is exactly what is an “eligible producer”? The program specifies that to be considered an “eligible producer” for NAP protection you must be an owner, landlord, tenant, or sharecropper who shares in the risk of producing the crop and is eligible to share in the crop available for marketing from the farm or would have shared had the crop been produced. Exactly who this definition covers is arguably open to interpretation and will likely be the focus of some high stakes litigation in Alabama’s federal courts.
Because of the unusual weather conditions that took place during 2016 and 2017, which included extended periods of draught and extreme rain, many produce crops failed and were eligible for NAP coverage. This led to an increase in NAP claims in and around the Dothan area, leading to FSA having the prospect of huge federal payouts. While some farmers may have committed fraud by filing NAP claims under ineligible circumstances, the fear is that innocent farmers and lenders may be swept up into the investigation due to the government’s desire to avoid paying the large number of NAP claims.
If you are involved in a NAP claim in any way, whether you are a farmer, land owner, sharecropper, or lender, and have any questions, feel free to call our offices to discuss your situation. If you are approached by an investigator, we recommend you seek our assistance or the assistance of another qualified federal criminal attorney with a working knowledge of the NAP program.