01/02/06 — Farm Service Agency puts maps on computer

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Farm Service Agency puts maps on computer

By Turner Walston
Published in News on January 2, 2006 1:48 PM

The federal Farm Service Agency is shifting to the use of digitized maps that will enable farmers and farm agents to more quickly glean the information necessary for farmers' participation in federal programs.

The new maps will eventually be available on the Internet.

"We're all going to the next level. It's a big puzzle, and we're putting the pieces together," said Rick Tharrington, the FSA director for Wayne County.

The agency and the farmers it provides services for depend on accurate maps to determine growers' level of participation in state and federal loan and grant programs. Some of the current maps used by the agency are as much as 35 years old, Tharrington said, and need updating.

The new maps will display information about each tract of farmland in the county, including acreage, farm number, farm designation, and if the property has been converted into farmland from wetland.

The process of digitizing the maps has been lengthy. FSA employees started work on digitizing the maps in March 2004. Tharrington said he expects all the new maps to be finished by sometime this spring.

Acreage calculations taken by computer now are proving to be slightly more accurate than when done by previous methods, Tharrington said. The process of measuring a tract of land and attaching the pertinent information to a map, which once took several days, now takes about five minutes with the digitizing equipment, he said.

The information gathered and displayed on the new maps eventually will be accessible to landowners on the World Wide Web, Tharrington said. New standards for displaying the information will be applied across different federal and state programs, making the information more consistent, he said.

Farm owners have been mailed maps of their land containing the detailed information. Tharrington said it is important for landowners to check their new maps carefully.

Upon receipt of the new maps, land owners have 30 days to make comments on the property information. If they believe a mistake has been made they should contact the FSA office.

"When you go through this mass generation like this, you have errors," Tharrington said.