Farming is a tough business these days, but so is helping farmers, said Farm Service Agency Administrator Teresa Lasseter. Speaking at the recent annual joint meeting of the Southern Cotton Growers and Southeastern Cotton Ginners in Charlotte, N.C., Lasseter said that closures and consolidations of FSA offices will be done with direct input from state FSA directors.
“Each state will have the authority to use funds available within its portion of the federal budget to determine where FSA offices make the best business sense,” Lasseter said.
“In a worst-case scenario in which county offices are consolidated, farmers must have the flexibility of getting FSA assistance that is most convenient to them. I don't believe a farmer should drive 100 miles to go to an FSA office because it's in his or her district, when an office in the next district is only 50 miles away,” she said.
Lasseter, who grew up in a farming family in Tift County, Ga., said the upcoming farm bill and negotiations at the World Trade Organization will have indirect but profound impacts on the FSA and all other agencies designed to help farmers.
FSA has provided the documentation Congress needs to evaluate the value of the services they provide to farmers. Ultimately, what Congress decides and the president approves, in terms of budgets for the 2007 farm bill, will determine the scope of FSA and other farm programs, and each agency will be forced to live within the budgets set forth by the new legislation, Lasseter said.
Three issues to be determined by the World Trade Organization will indirectly affect FSA and other farm agencies. Lasseter said the level of domestic price supports for commodities, export competition and market access are the elements being focused on by USDA.
“We have made progress on the first two, but the sticking point seems to be world market access, particularly access to foreign competition by the European Union. The good news is that the DOHA round of talks continue in April, so there is time for negotiators to work out these stumbling blocks,” Lasseter said.
Lasseter said that 2006 is the 20th anniversary of the CRP program. Each year this program saves 450 million tons of topsoil. The impact of not having nutrients from these soils polluting streams, rivers and lakes, has resulted in cleaner water for humans and wildlife.
“Providing higher-quality water for non-agricultural areas and improving wildlife habitat and recreational areas may have a bigger influence than we know on people who make the laws that govern our agency and others set up to help farmers,” she said.
“In addition to restructuring FSA offices to accommodate the needs of farmers, to work with Congress on the 2007 farm bill and to keeping a watchful eye on International trade negotiations, we need to utilize technology to make all areas of agriculture more efficient.”
On a broad scale, she said, technology has changed the way farmers plant, grow and harvest crops. On a smaller scale are much less complex technological breakthroughs like electronic filing of loan deficiency payments (LDPs). In 2004, less than 2 percent applied for LDPs online, and in 2005 almost 10 percent applied electronically, Lasseter said.
“Just using this little piece of technology saves time in receiving payments, reduces the cost of generating claims and paying these claims. It can also help provide extra time for FSA offices to do other things to help farmers,” Lasseter said.
Making your life better on the farm is my personal goal and the goal of the agency I head,” Lasseter said.