A record Easter weekend freeze, followed by one of the worst early season droughts in history, has left many farmers wondering what to do with crops that cannot be economically harvested.

Though one tropical system downgraded drought conditions in the Carolinas and Virginia from severe to moderate, by mid-June the lower half of South Carolina, the upper third of North Carolina and most of eastern Virginia were back into severe drought categories.

A number of federally backed programs exist to help farmers in a crisis situation, but few farmers know about the options they have if they are turned down for federal assistance.

The USDA has a National Appeals Division (NAD) that is set up with counselors to assist farmers who have been refused federal assistance.

By contacting NAD, farmers will get an impartial hearing from a Hearing Officer. Farmers can present evidence and testimony to demonstrate why and how the USDA was in error in providing assistance.

The Hearing Officer can be impartial because NAD is a separate agency within the USDA. NAD has three centrally located regional offices in the eastern, western, and southern United States.

NAD functions independently of other USDA Agencies, such as the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Rural Housing Service (RHS). Its mission is to provide an independent forum where farm producers and rural homeowners can appeal adverse program decisions from USDA Agencies.

The National Appeals Division has a headquarters office located in Alexandria, Va., and regional offices located in Indianapolis Ind., Cordova, Tenn., and Lakewood, Colo. The lower Southeast is covered by the Cordova, Tenn., office and the upper part of the area is served by the office in Indianapolis, Ind.

According to Tezra Woody, deputy assistant director for the Southern Region Office, 30 percent of farmers who file for an appeals hearing via NAD are successful. Woody says for the cost of a postage stamp a farmer can request an appeal, which will be heard in the farmer’s home state at no cost to the farmer.

To file an appeal, Woody says a program participant need only send a written request for an appeal along with a copy of the decision being appealed, plus the farmer’s phone number and e-mail address (if applicable) to the appropriate NAD regional office.

Although some farmers choose to retain lawyers or other professionals to represent them, there is no requirement to do so.

Farmers can fax their requests for appeal to the appropriate regional office and eliminate mail time.

At this time, NAD does not accept appeal requests submitted by e-mail due to the requirement that each appeal request be personally signed by the farmer.

The Director of NAD has statutory authority to decide whether an adverse decision can be appealed. Woody contends farmers should not be discouraged if an agency adverse decision letter states the adverse decision is “non-appealable.”

If the agency adverse decision does not include instructions on how to request a NAD appeal, simply print off an appeal request form from the NAD Web site at www.nad.usda.gov

. Each farmer who makes an appeal has a right to a hearing in his or her home state. If a farmer cannot travel for any reason, he or she can request a hearing by telephone. Under NAD regulations, once a hearing officer is assigned a case, he or she has 45 days to hold the hearing, and 30 days after the hearing to publish the decision.

To learn more about the appeals process, farmers can contact the Southern Region Office at 1-800-552-5377. e-mail: rrobeson@farmpress.com