Farmers Claim Agency Mistake Kept Them From Crop Disaster Assistance Funds

Michael W. Shelley and Hudson T. Shelley claimed, in a petition before the Middle District of Alabama on Friday, that an administrative mistake misclassifying their crookneck squash crop has kept them from receiving the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) awards which they are allegedly entitled to.

The petition was filed against the United States of America, Farm Service Agency, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The petitioners filed a notice of loss and application for NAP payments for their loss of crookneck squash in 2018 due to “heat, excessive moisture/precipitation and plant disease.” They were told the loss was not eligible.

The petitioners are multi-generational farmers who grow various plants in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. They finance crops through local banks to acquire the costs to purchase seeds, fertilizer, and equipment. In 2018 they sought NAP coverage, which helps cover specialty crop losses from damaging weather and other natural occurrences like excessive heat, insects, or floods. They worked with their state’s Farm Service Agency in Jackson County, Florida, and placed the correct number for squash (0155) on the forms and gave the correct oral designation for crooked neck squash (CRK), which the agency needed to place on the form.

The petition said, “had the Agency reviewed all the forms and information submitted by Michael (and Hudson), it would have been readily apparent that his intention was for the Agency to have listed CRK Squash on his NAP application, and would have seen that his acreage report confirmed that intention.”

Michael and Hudson Shelley allegedly sought relief separately in two Appeal Determinations in December 2019, but both were rejected by the USDA in March. The petitioners claimed they “exhausted all administrative remedies,” and wanted to appeal the agency’s decision to not grant NAP aid. 

“Although the producer orally answered the question on variety as ‘crooked neck’ squash, the Agency failed to complete the blank as instructed and, instead, inserted ‘sum’ as the squash variety, a computer entry which was the responsibility of the Agency. The producer signed the forms under the mistaken belief that the Agency had correctly designated both the crop and the variety,” the complaint stated.

The farmers alleged that the agency violated its rules and “set the stage” to later neglect their requests and deny their claims. They further said that the agency ignored their acreage reports, which designated the squash as crookneck squash. The petitioners claimed that since they paid the service fees for the NAP program and made no mistakes on their portions of the paperwork, they are entitled to claim payment for the loss of crookneck squash.

The petitioners, represented by Morris Haynes LLP,  asked for the court to rule that they “acted in good faith reliance upon the actions of the Agency” and grant them relief for their lost crookneck squash during the 2018 crop year.