Deficit reduction may be an admirable goal for federal agencies, but now is not the time for USDA to be planning to close or consolidate more county Farm Service Agency offices, one farm organization says.

The American Corn Growers Association says it endorses new legislation, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., which would prohibit the closure or relocation of any county FSA offices until at least one year after the enactment of the new farm bill.

“This is not the time to be closing offices because we do not know what the next farm bill will require, and most likely a new farm disaster bill will be implemented to cover losses of the 2005 to 2007 crop years,” said ACGA Chief Executive Larry Mitchell, a former deputy administrator of FSA.

“Until it is known what programs will be contained in the new farm bill or how it will be administered, and until Farm Service Agency computer problems have been mitigated, it is ill-advised to reduce the FSA farm program delivery platform.”

Each of the last few administrations has proposed reorganizing or consolidating Farm Service Agency operations to reduce costs or improve efficiencies. But farm groups have resisted those efforts, saying farmers need more help figuring out farm programs rather than less.

Mitchell said ACGA is urging Congress to postpone any county office closures or reductions in staff until after the farm bill and the pending disaster bill have been passed, enacted and deployed and a real solution to the antiquated computer system has been found.

“We also commend Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., ranking member of the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, and others who have publicly called for a hearing and prompt action on this issue,” said Mitchell.

U.S. farm bills have progressively become more complicated, he noted. “In the early days of U.S. farm programs, direct subsidies to farmers were minimal, the programs were straight-forward and much simpler to administer.

“The original New Deal farm programs were usually administered by the local committees made up of the actual farmers, nominated and elected by their peers, with a minimal amount of assistance from hired staff. The programs were administered without the aid of computers, digital satellite imagery, email, fax machines or the Internet.”

Fewer people are farming today, “but we still have almost as many acres, have many more facets of the farm program and distribute many more dollars. We hope that the next farm bill is much simpler than the current program, but until it is determined just what the new farm bill will require, it is premature and ill advised to close county offices.”

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