USDA Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Under Secretary J.B Penn sent a letter Tuesday informing congressional members that the USDA has decided to set aside the "FSA Tomorrow" approach that would have closed nearly 600 Farm Service Agency offices.
"I appreciate USDA's decision to halt its plan to close an excessive number of county and local FSA offices. I had serious concerns with the plan, including USDA's failure to demonstrate that FSA Tomorrow would yield better service for producers," says Senate Ag Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss. "Although this specific modernization plan has been abandoned, I sincerely hope that the Farm Service Agency will work to improve service to producers and the agriculture community. We appreciate the work of FSA employees in the field, and I encourage FSA headquarters to focus on improved program delivery, including finding solutions to computer software development issues and releasing long-overdue farmer payments."
With USDA's abandonment of the FSA closings, Chambliss announced cancellation of this Thursday's hearing to bring top USDA officials to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee. The review was sparked by Sen. Jim Talent's unanimously-approved Senate appropriations amendment requiring the Secretary of Agriculture's thorough analysis before any offices would be closed.
"This is tremendous news for our producers who rely on their local Farm Service Agency offices to provide a wide range of agricultural services," says Talent, R-Mo. "I was especially concerned because the office closure plan was issued with little or no consultation with our local offices and producers. We all want our FSA offices to operate as efficiently as possible, but the key with the way we handle these offices must be service and accessibility to the agriculture community and to our producers."
"Much more dialogue and consideration is needed before a final determination, which could essentially alter the county office structure, is made," says House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte. "I encourage USDA to enhance service to our producers and I stand ready to develop the consensus needed to implement future improvements."