FSA OFFICES UNDER REVIEW ANNOUNCED
Alabama congressional leaders have been provided a list of 28 county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices currently under review for possible closure.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama congressional leaders have been provided a list of 28 county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices currently under review as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to close 713 FSA offices nationwide, including 15 in Alabama.
The offices being reviewed are in Autauga, Butler, Calhoun, Cherokee, Colbert, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lee, Macon, Madison, Marshall, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pike, Russell and Talladega counties.
Earlier this week, sources at the Farm Service Agency state office in Montgomery told the Alabama Farmers Federation that State FSA Committee members plan to convene Oct. 5-6 at Auburn University to review the current county office structure. The national FSA office has given the state 45 days to submit a plan to close 15 offices.
"There are a lot of things we're looking at," said Debbie Williams, executive officer with the Alabama FSA office. "For example, we're looking at geographic barriers...how difficult it is for the producers to be served. For that reason, some county offices targeted for closure under the national plan may not be on our list. We know our offices better than they do."
State FSA officials have repeatedly said they are working to develop a plan that ensures Alabama farmers continue to be served and experience as little inconvenience as possible. They also have said they are working to educate the national FSA office that the cost of delivering services in Alabama should not be the sole factor in determining which office will be closed. They note that offices in the South often administer more programs than those in the Midwest, and Alabama offices work with smaller farmers and process more applications per dollar of payments provided.
Keith Gray, national affairs director for the Federation, said he has been in constant contact with Alabama's congressional delegation, which is calling for hearings to discuss the closure plan.
"This plan could not have come at a worse time," Gray said. "With Southern farmers facing a crop disaster due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as low commodity prices, we need all of our FSA offices available to serve producers. The national office says it will use cost savings from the closures to improve technology, but Congress already has appropriated money for those improvements. Our state FSA leaders, along with the Alabama congressional delegation, are working to make sure Southern states don't suffer a disproportionate share of the cuts."
In response to an outcry from farmers, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced Wednesday that he is opening a dialogue with state and congressional leaders to discuss how best to modernize the FSA to ensure it meets the needs of farmers and ranchers in the 21st Century.
"FSA is an agency with a strong record of service to farmers and ranchers," said Johanns. "To continue that tradition we must examine our future course with vision and an understanding that producers' needs are changing.