Farm Loan and Conservation Services
Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area, Department of Agriculture
The Farm Production and Conservation mission area at USDA provides farm loans, conservation services and other assistance to farmers, ranchers and other stewards of private agricultural lands.
USDA customers appreciate the agency’s commitment to providing personalized services and up-to-date information—whether in service centers across the country or online on Farmers.gov—that helps producers decide which agency programs are right for them.
Despite these successes, customers feel that some agency processes, such as multiple applications that require the same information, take too long or are redundant. To address this issue, USDA is working on improving coordination among the agencies within the Farm Production and Conservation mission area to streamline services and reduce complexity.
visits to Farmers.gov in fiscal year 2020.
farm loans delivered in fiscal year 2020.
farmers received conservation services in fiscal year 2020.
Customer Experience Insights
Improvement from last year
Room for improvement
When applying for more than one program or service within FPAC, producers are often required to provide some of the same information numerous times for each agency, which is inefficient and time-consuming, and from the customers’ perspective, can seem unnecessary.
To address this, USDA is continuing to examine how different programs and services within FPAC can more closely coordinate to streamline application processes. For example, in spring 2021 the Risk Management Agency opened the Pandemic Cover Crop Program to help producers maintain cover crop systems during the economic challenges of the pandemic.1 At the same time, producers who received FSA services were completing annual acreage reports. To streamline the experience for customers, the two agencies coordinated so that the acreage information producers provided to FSA—the same information RMA needed to evaluate eligibility for the new program—was automatically sent to RMA without producers needing to complete additional forms. This enabled customers to access services from both RMA and FSA without having to provide the same information multiple times, and agency leadership noted that uptake of this new program was widespread because it was easier to apply.
Average Direct Loan Processing Time by Fiscal Year
|Number of days||31||30||32||34||36|
In 2021, direct farm loans took 36 days to process, on average. Customers would like faster decisions to speed up loan processing times, according to agency staff members.
To address this issue, the FSA is investing in modernized IT systems to improve the services it can offer online and the ability of staff to process loans. Planned online service improvements include an interactive online loan application and other self-service capabilities, such as loan repayment. These new IT systems will also enable employees to process loans more quickly by replacing current paper-based processes. The agency is also focusing on helping more customers access farm loan programs by training staff to collaborate with producers to develop tailored credit options and help them meet program requirements. “If that producer is doing something that was intended to qualify them for programs or benefits, we should be finding them a pathway towards program participation,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the FSA.
Farmers.gov provides information and self-service tools that help customers decide what USDA programs and services might be right for their situation. The agency also rolls out new tools every few months to meet customer needs or as new programs become available. During the pandemic, for example, the agency quickly built a new tool to help customers navigate the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2, a program for producers facing market disruptions because of the pandemic. Once launched, the tool quickly became the most-used feature on Farmers.gov—meeting the urgent need of producers looking to understand the new program.
Despite these successes, agency leaders acknowledge that customers would like some of the website’s features to be streamlined. For example, some producers find the current procedures to log-in to their Farmers.gov accounts too cumbersome and would like easier access to online services.2 Applications for some USDA programs are also unavailable through Farmers.gov. In response to these concerns, the agency is looking at ways to simplify the website’s log-in feature and increase the number of tasks customers can complete online.
Because farmers who seek help from USDA have different needs and situations, field staff members are trained to provide tailored services and build personal relationships. They recognize that some producers may want frequent and in-depth support, while others only want to contact the agency when applying for a loan.
To capitalize on field staff members’ experience in providing personalized services, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is launching an Employee Innovation Portal to collect information about new ways field staff members find to serve customers. The portal will enable staff at service centers around the country to learn about their peers’ innovations and spread best practices for serving customers. An initial 30-day pilot of this new portal resulted in nearly 40 submissions from NRCS staff, including plain language communication resources, improvements for training staff and other innovations. The agency is now reviewing these submissions before implementing them to ensure they will meet customer needs.
Leading Customer Experience Practices
The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.
A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.
1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
USDA’s strategic plan includes a goal to “Ensure USDA programs are delivered efficiently, effectively, and with integrity and a focus on customer service.”
2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
While the agency’s strategic plan includes performance measures related to service delivery, it does not include any measures based on customer feedback.
3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
USDA has a chief customer experience officer who leads customer experience efforts across the department.
Ease of Customer Interactions
Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.
For the most common services provided, customers can:
1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
Customers can view their farm loans online. Many farm program application processes can be started online and many other tasks completed on Farmers.gov, but some programs require original signatures or visits to service centers to submit forms. As a result of the pandemic, the agency began to accept online signatures and adopt secure file-sharing for multiple programs.
2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
Through a feature on Farmers.gov, some but not all agricultural producers can view loan information, history and payments for USDA farm loans.
3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
Farmers.gov social media accounts occasionally respond to customer questions and comments on Twitter and Facebook.
4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
Resources on Farmers.gov are available in 12 languages, although the scope of the content is different depending on the language. Local USDA Service Centers offer free interpretation services for some USDA programs and assistance.
Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback
To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.
1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
USDA collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its online services, in line with OMB guidance.
2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
USDA collects first-hand customer feedback through web surveys, targeted surveys and direct interviews with customers.
3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
USDA aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs. The agency’s web team monitors and acts on feedback weekly, and data is shared quarterly with FPAC leadership and other relevant staff.