WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced that farmers, ranchers and others across the country can nominate eligible candidates for the 2005 elections to serve on USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees through Aug. 1. The first day to file nomination forms was June 15.

“County committees play an integral role in the local implementation of Farm Service Agency programs,” said Johanns. “I encourage all producers, community-based groups and others who care about American agriculture to participate in the county committee election process by nominating eligible candidates, especially minorities and women.”

Farmers who serve on county committees help ensure FSA agricultural programs adequately serve the needs of local producers. Committees make decisions on county commodity price-support loan eligibility, establishment of allotments and yields, conservation programs, disaster programs, employment and other issues.

To be an eligible candidate, a person must participate or cooperate in an FSA program, be of legal voting age and live in the county or area where the election is being held. USDA will implement a program to encourage greater participation of minority and women producers in the county committee election process.

Individuals may nominate themselves or others as candidates. In addition, eligible candidates can be nominated by community-based organizations, especially groups representing socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, before the close of the nomination period.

In January, USDA issued uniform guidelines for county committee elections to help ensure that FSA county committees fairly represent the agricultural producers of a county or multi-county area. The guidelines, required by the 2002 farm bill, govern the FSA county committee election process and are designed to increase participation by minorities and women. To read the guidelines in their entirety, visit: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/elections/.

Among the key guidelines that are now in effect:

• If no valid nominations are filed, the secretary of agriculture may nominate up to two individuals to be placed on the ballot.

• County committees must annually review the local administrative area boundaries to ensure the fair representation of SDA producers in their county or multi-county area.

• FSA county offices shall actively locate and recruit eligible candidates identified as socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as potential nominees for the county committee elections using any reasonable means necessary, including the development of partnerships with community-based organizations.

Ballots will be mailed to eligible voters by Nov. 4, 2005. The deadline to return ballots is Dec. 5, 2005. Elected committee members and alternates take office on Jan. 1, 2006.

The COC system was first established in 1936 and is authorized by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act. Today, there are more than 8,300 committee members serving three-year terms in more than 2,300 county offices nationwide. Every year, elections are held for approximately one-third of these seats.

For more information about FSA county committees or to obtain a nomination form (FSA-669A), visit a local USDA Service Centers or go online at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/elections.