LINCOLN — A Nebraska farmer took to the internet Thursday to urge his fellow farmers against doing what he did: misrepresent his crop losses to the federal government.
In September, a federal judge ordered Meadow Grove farmer Ross Nelson to pay $1 million in restitution and a $30,000 fine for making a fraudulent crop insurance claim.
Nelson, in a webinar broadcast, said that in 2015, the crop yields on a plot he was farming weren’t what he was expecting.
So he underreported his yields to obtain more proceeds from federal crop insurance, which is intended to pay for losses, such as those from drought, floods and hail.
“I shouldn’t have done it. It wasn’t right,” Nelson said. “My priorities were wrong.”
As part of his sentence, he was ordered to do community service, which included appearing on Thursday’s webinar, hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
He was also sentenced to four years’ probation and 16 weekends of jail. Nelson said he is barred from obtaining crop insurance and may be blocked from participating in other federal farm programs.
But on the webinar, Nelson, a 48-year-old, married father of four, expressed gratitude. It could have been a lot worse, he said.
Defrauding the crop insurance program came with a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. He said that despite the stress and financial setback, he has been able to keep farming and has kept his family.
Nelson said he now farms about one-third the acreage he used to but said he is current on his bank payments. He said his operation has shifted to custom feeding hogs to pay the bills.
“We were fortunate the way it ended up,” he said.
The misrepresentation was discovered after an audit was conducted of the actual crop yields, compared to those of neighboring farms. Nelson was paid $700,000 in crop insurance, but he said that, legally, he could not just repay what he received.
The investigation was conducted for the USDA by the Office of the Inspector General. A U.S. Department of Justice website lists a long line of convictions for crop insurance fraud across the country.
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