Congress is pulling out the stops to keep USDA from moving forward with the "FSA Tomorrow" plan, which would close nearly one-third of Farm Service Agency county offices nationwide.
In the House, a bipartisan group of farm state members introduced a bill to stop the plan from moving forward. In the Senate, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss scheduled a hearing on the issue for Oct. 20.
USDA's FSA Tomorrow requires that each state identify a specific number of county offices that would be closed. See how many offices must be cut by viewing USDA's FSA Tomorrow plan submitted to Congress.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Miin., and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, says the plan does not spare states where agricultural disasters have increased the need for access to FSA office services.
For example, in states that experienced extensive agricultural damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FSA Tomorrow would close more than 30% of Alabama's FSA county offices, more than 35% of Louisiana's offices, and more than 45% Mississippi's FSA county offices.
"Farmers rely on FSA office employees for technical advice and support for federal farm programs, and I have serious concerns about the timing and need to close so many offices right now," Peterson says. "I have heard from many farmers across the country that they have real concerns about the effect that these closures may have."
The bill would prevent USDA from using any funds to carry out plans to close, move or consolidate a large number of FSA offices until the next Farm Bill has been completed.
This week, Peterson sent a letter to Secretary Johanns outlining a number of specific concerns that the office closure plan raises and asking the Secretary to respond to several questions related to the plan.
"Until we know what roles and responsibilities the FSA offices will need to play after the next Farm Bill is finished, it is best to postpone consideration of any major office closure or consolidation plans," Peterson says.
The Senate included a provision in the agricultural appropriations bill that a cost analysis must be released and evaluated before any closures finalized.