- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a system to allow farm loan borrowers to make payments online, according to a press release last week. Later this month, individual borrowers will no longer have to call, mail or physically visit a USDA service center to make a payment. However, borrowers who make jointly payable checks will not be able to pay online, the release said.
- The new online payment system is meant to help farmers and ranchers who may be busy during the planting and harvesting seasons. It is also meant to cut down on manual payment processing done by USDA employees, the release said.
- “Farmers and ranchers have responded to some difficult challenges over the last few years and their time is a precious commodity,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small said in the release. “Having the option to conduct business online is essential.”
There are 2,300 local USDA service centers that process about 225,000 farm loan payments each year on average, according to the release. Some 26,000 producers submit a direct loan application annually, the release also said. The loans are an offering of the department’s Farm Service Agency meant to help farmers and ranchers start, expand or maintain a family farm.
“We appreciate that USDA is trying to make the payment process easier for farmers,” Idaho Farm Bureau Director of Publications Sean Ellis said in an email. The Idaho Farm Bureau is a chapter of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a non-profit agricultural organization and lobbying group with affiliates in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. “During planting and harvest seasons, farmers are incredibly busy, so providing them an option to make their farm loan payments online should help them save time and effort,” Ellis said.
The new payment system is part of an effort by the FSA to streamline the farm loan system. The agency has also added an online loan application system as well as simplified the paper application for a direct loan, the release said.
The USDA faced criticism over its processes last month in a report from a government watchdog. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the department’s process for tracking land owned by foreign countries was riddled with data flaws. The watchdog suggested making upgrades to the USDA’s technology and systems, however the agency said it had no plans to do so, “in part because USDA has not received funding.”
The USDA did not immediately respond to questions about its new online payment system for farm loans.