The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides approximately $10 billion in farm program benefits to America’s farmers and ranchers annually. These benefits support approximately 2.2 million producers who provide food and fiber to feed more than 300 million Americans and millions more around the world.
In the day-to-day work, Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices throughout the country depend on much of the same technology and software that was developed for their use in the late 1980’s. But just as farming and ranching has evolved in the last 30 years, so must FSA’s tools. Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS) was chartered to provide a sustainable long term solution that will provide farmers, ranchers, and FSA employees to simple and convenient access farm programs. These improvements will equip FSA employees to deliver the farm programs of today and tomorrow, while keeping pace with the changing needs of the agricultural community. Lean Six Sigma project and USDA Listening sessions conducted in 2010 with FSA county office staff, farmers and ranchers further validated the need for improved systems and provided valuable input into the MIDAS project and requirements for system improvements.
MIDAS will allow FSA State and County office employees to work with farm records with GIS integration and customer data more efficiently. When complete, MIDAS will provide processes and tools that will simplify methods for producers and employees to access farm records and make it easier to sign-up for farm programs.
MIDAS deployed Release 1, Farm Records, in April 2013, which established foundational data and processes allowing field offices to update farm, producer, and CLU records and prepare for taking acreage reports. The deployment also included farm records with GIS integration, producer information, and common commodity data.
Future releases of MIDAS aim to include:
- Release 2, Business Partner: MIDAS will transition creation and maintenance of customer business partner information from multiple external systems to the MIDAS solution. This will reduce redundant data collection and increase data integrity.
The output of quick hits projects using the Lean Six Sigma methodology has resulted in more than $10 million in savings per year (combination of hard and soft savings)
Lean Six Sigma is a recognized industry best practice for business improvement which focuses on increasing the speed and quality of a process. In 2008, FSA began its LSS efforts with site visits to county offices throughout the country to capture current business processes for the top 5 farm benefit programs, to uncover pain points, and to seek recommendations.
Thus far, one of the greatest LSS success stories surrounds the Signature Authority process that county offices identified as their biggest issue. An LSS team was put together by the MIDAS office, consisting of state and county staff, along with DC staff. The team used standard LSS methodology to complete this quick-hit project. The data collection and analysis by the team showed that on average, it took nearly two hours for the county staff to verify signature authority for one producer, going through the legal document(s). Even then, staff was not always certain as they are not lawyers by profession and sometimes it is hard to interpret legal language written in those document(s). The MIDAS team quantified that over a half a million hours per year were being spent by the county staff across the country examining legal documents to determine signature authority.
Based on this analysis, the MIDAS LSS team came up with a proposed solution, allowing producers to self-certify their signature authority on CCC-902 form, resulting in an annual savings of approx $8 million to FSA. The proposed solution was put forward to Production, Emergencies, and Compliance Division (PECD) and Office of General Counsel (OGC). Based on the data analysis and the potential savings associated with the proposed solution, PECD was able to change the policy; now producers simply check a box on CCC-902 form to self-certify.
Going forward the MIDAS LSS team will support the business functional teams as they prepare for and conduct blueprinting and Proof of Concept work for MIDAS.
In 2010, USDA conducted a series of Listening Session Tours to gather feedback from the USDA field office employees and producers about the effectiveness of our service delivery. Over the course of 22 listening sessions covering 10 states, we heard from farmers, ranchers, and producers, and from our Service Center staff, about the pain points they currently experience and their recommendations for improvement. The Report below, Understanding the Challenges of Service Delivery to USDA Producers and Customers
, provides a full description and analysis of the feedback we gathered, and the actions we are taking to address those pain points.