Farm Bureau cautious about USDA office closings

Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach expressed caution about the planned closing of 16 USDA facilities in Arkansas, noting that public hearings on the closings will be held at 10 different locations begin Jan. 23.

 “Those of us in agriculture are willing to take our share of cuts – we all agree we have got to get the federal deficit under control – but some of these planned cuts seem to be arbitrary and driven by something other than common sense,” said Veach, a cotton, soybean and rice farmer from Manila (Mississippi County). “We view these closings with some degree of caution.

 “These closings will put a hardship on some farmers, greatly increasing the amount of time it can take to get to the closest USDA/FSA office, and time is a valuable commodity for everyone.

 “First and foremost, we want to ensure that the farmers and ranchers of this state will have the ability to participate in USDA programs. If these closings limit the ability of farmers and ranchers to take part in USDA programs, then that is a clear sign the cuts are too deep.”

 USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack announced plans last week to close 259 offices nationwide – including a total of 16 facilities in Arkansas, among the most in the nation.

 The Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Pulaski County has been targeted for closure, as well as 10 Farm Service Agency offices (Benton, Bradley, Fulton, Garland, Faulkner, Izard, Johnson, Lafayette, Logan, Pulaski counties). USDA also plans to close five Rural Development offices (Faulkner, Hot Spring, Izard, Sevier and White counties).

 Veach said Vilsack broke the news about the USDA office closings to those in attendance at the American Farm Bureau convention last week, and the secretary vowed to ensure ongoing access to USDA programs.

 “Sec. Vilsack said he is committed to making sure all USDA programs are open to farmers and ranchers,” Veach said. “he said the programs will continue to be streamlined, while online signup and verification capacity will be enhanced. While I certainly support that effort, it is important need to realize that there are large parts of our state where reliable broadband internet service is unavailable.

 “As more and more of our business moves into an online environment, we must work to provide adequate access for those in rural parts of our state and nation.”

 Public hearings have been set for counties where FSA offices are to be closed. The list of hearings:

Date                Time               County            Location

Jan. 23           9:00 a.m.        Pulaski           Cooperative Extension State Office, Little Rock

Jan. 23           2:00 p.m.        Garland          Garland County Public Library, Hot Springs

Jan. 26           10:30 a.m.      Bradley           Municipal Court Building, Warren

Jan. 30           10:30 a.m.      Lafayette        Lafayette County Agriplex, Lewisville

Feb. 1             9:30 a.m.        Johnson          First Security Bank, Clarksville

Feb. 1             2:00 p.m.        Logan             First National Bank Community Center, Paris

Feb. 2             10:30 a.m.      Faulkner         Natural Resource Center, Conway

Feb. 3             10:30 a.m.      Fulton              Fulton County Courthouse, Salem

Feb. 3             2:30 p.m.        Izard                Izard County Courthouse, Melbourne

Feb. 6             10:30 a.m.      Benton            Benton County Extension office, Bentonville

 Veach noted Farm Bureau’s current policy regarding farmer access to USDA programs reads: “We support the efficient delivery of farm programs and retention of county committee structures with all counties represented, even if the number of county FSA, NRCS and Rural Economic and Community Development offices is reduced. Whenever county offices are combined, equal board member representation should be ensured.”

 “It is clear from our policy position that Farm Bureau members realize the delivery of service is the most important role of the USDA offices,” Veach said. “We need to ensure access to services is not restricted by these planned office closings.”

 Arkansas Farm Bureau is a non-profit, private farm and rural advocacy organization of more than 210,000 families throughout the state working to improve farm and rural life.