The Nebraska Farmers Union has given its support to legislation that would prevent USDA from closing any Farm Service Agency offices until one year after the next farm bill is written.
The legislation, H.R. 1649, was introduced by Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D., and co-sponsored by Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.
"Closing county offices in advance of the Congressional authorization of the 2007 Farm Bill is premature," says John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. "No one, certainly not the State FSA Committee, knows what the new farm program priorities will be. Representatives Smith and Herseth-Sandlin are on the right track to take a wait and see approach."
The Nebraska State FSA recently released their final study report proposing to consolidate 10 of the 81 FSA county field offices. Counties losing county offices are Banner, Boyd, Deuel, Frontier, Sherman, Greeley, Thomas, Garfield, Dakota, and Hitchcock.
"Closing county offices means local farmers and ranchers will spend more time and money out their pockets to participate in farm programs," Hansen says. "That is the wrong way to save money. The root of the problem is chronic Congressional under funding of USDA technical and administrative services. In the last 16 years, Nebraska has lost nearly 300 permanent FSA employees. Yet, compared to 16 years ago, the current farm bill has many more programs to administer, and is more complicated."
The current farm bill, for example, has dramatically expanded conservation programs, Hansen says, and the public has every right to expect those conservation programs be properly installed and maintained. And that takes staff.
Inadequate funding for technical and administrative services will not go away by closing county FSA offices, Hansen says. "If USDA wants to reduce its administrative costs, we suggest they start in Washington, D.C., not at the local level."