FAQ: USDA has proposed consolidating and closing a number of offices, labs and other facilities across the country to save money. That includes 131 county offices of the Farm Service Agency, which handles farm programs. How will this plan affect Iowa if it is adopted as initially proposed?
Answer: Three Iowa FSA offices are on the list--in Appanoose, Decatur and Union counties. USDA officials say farmers in counties where offices are proposed to be consolidated will be served by offices in neighboring counties.
All of the FSA offices proposed for consolidation nationwide either have no staff now or only one or two employees and are within 20 miles of other FSA offices. Public meetings will be held before the department goes ahead with the proposed consolidations. After the meetings, USDA will take comments on the plan and then spend another 90 days evaluating the comments and deciding whether to go forward with the plan. Farmers in counties where offices are to be closed will be notified where their records will be handled.
Beth Grabau, public information and outreach specialist at the Iowa FSA state office in Des Moines, provided the answers to the following questions. If you have other questions, contact the state FSA office at 515-245-1540. Also check www.fsa.usda.gov for general information.
Question: I heard the announcement USDA is consolidating my FSA county office. Is that true? What does this mean?
Answer: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced January 9 that USDA is proposing consolidation of 131 FSA county offices in 32 states. Currently, this is a proposal. The 2008 Farm Bill required the agency to hold public meetings in each of the impacted counties within 30 days of the proposal. Following the public meetings, USDA will issue notification to Congress at least 90 days before any office closure is approved by USDA, as required by the 2008 Farm Bill.
Question: Will I be notified where my records will be moved? Will I be given an opportunity to select another county office all together? I farm in only one county and actually live closer to an office that is not involved in this proposed change; can my records be transferred to it?
Answer: Remember this is only a proposal, but if the proposal continues in its current form, producers will be notified in writing that the office where their farm records are currently administered will be consolidated. The letter will include information as to location of their new administrating office.
Producers may select a different administrative county office if another office is more convenient. But, when making a different selection, the different county must be contiguous (physically touching) to the county where the office that is being consolidated is located. You'll have 60 calendar days from date of the letter to select a different administrative county office.
Generally, FSA regulations have always required that records are carried in the county office where the records are physically located. The only time a farm could be transferred to a different county is if it will be combined with an existing farm in another county. But, when a county office is being consolidated, this changes. Let's say you farm only in county A, where the office is being consolidated. You receive your office consolidation letter, which tells you your new office will be county B, but you actually live in county C. If county C is contiguous to county A, you may request to have your records administered in county C. However, remember to make this request within 60 days of the receipt of the letter.
Question: I farm in two counties and therefore work with two different FSA county offices and two different NRCS offices, however only one FSA office is being consolidated. What choices do I have? To add to this, one of my counties is in another state. How am I affected?
Answer: As discussed in the previous question, you'll be notified of the office consolidation and where your records will be transferred. Similarly, you can choose another office, one that is more convenient for you, as long as it is a contiguous county. This choice is not limited by a state line; your records can be transferred to any contiguous county. Contact your local office for more information regarding your specific situation.
Each state's consolidation plan is slightly different, so FSA and NRCS may be affected differently. In Iowa, the consolidation plan affects three FSA offices. In offices where FSA and NRCS are co-located, and the FSA office may be consolidated, the NRCS offices will remain open along with the farm records they maintain. Thus, the FSA/NRCS services will no longer be co-located.
Question: Are other USDA agencies affected?
Answer: In early January, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced USDA's plan to close or consolidate 259 offices, labs and other facilities nationwide, including 131 county FSA offices. The agency downsize is a result of USDA's reduced discretionary operating budget. In Iowa, the USDA proposal would close one Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Fairfield along with three Farm Service Agency offices in Centerville, Leon and Creston. Services would be merged with nearby offices. Iowa FSA will hold public hearings in Centerville (Appanoose County) Jan. 31, at Leon (Decatur County) Feb. 1 and at Creston (Union County) Feb. 2 on proposed FSA office mergers.