USDA proceeding with office closing

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Farm Service Agency office in Monticello will close unless Congress takes action, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week.

     Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced via press release Monday that his office has completed the required public meetings and has announced to Congress its intent to move forward with the closure of 131 Farm Service Agency offices nationwide, including eight in Mississippi.

     Congress has 90 days to take action. If it fails to do so, closures will begin, according to the Mississippi FSA Director Mike Sullivan,

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     “On day 91, we will proceed with plans to close,” Sullivan said.

     Congress could conceivably pass legislation altering the criteria for consolidations or take some other action to disrupt closures, but Sullivan said he does not anticipate that happening.

     The records of Lawrence County producers that use the Monticello office will be moved to the FSA office in Prentiss in Jefferson Davis County. Sullivan aims to have the Monticello office consolidated with the Prentiss office by the middle of August, but he warned plans may change.

     “That’s just a goal,” he said.

      Physical records must be moved between the offices and the county committees must be merged as part of this process.

     Sullivan urged Lawrence County producers to continue using the Monticello office up until it closes.

     “Spring is a very busy sign-up time for our producers,” Sullivan said. “These offices will be functioning for the next 90 days. We don’t want to cause any confusion.”

     The importance of the fall season also motivates Sullivan’s goal of completing the move by mid-August.

     “In the fall of the year, we also have some sign-up dates that farmers are used to,” Sullivan said. “We want to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

     The USDA announced in January the proposal to close 131 FSA offices and 260 other USDA offices across the country. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated cuts to the agency, and the USDA estimates the closings will save $150 million annually out of the agency’s $145 billion budget.

     Following the announcement, public meetings were held in communities home to offices slated to move or close. Though the Monticello records are headed to Prentiss, Sullivan said producers may operate out of another county’s office if they so wish.

     Lawrence County residents at the public meeting voiced concern over the move. They suggested downsizing a larger office rather than outright closing small offices might be preferable.

     Comments and questions at the public meeting were forwarded to the USDA’s national office for consideration.

     Monticello’s USDA Service Center houses FSA offices and a Natural Resource Conservation Service office. Only the FSA office’s closure is currently planned.

     Other Farm Service Agency office closures are planned in Ashland, Ackerman, Fulton, Hernando, Coffeeville, Raleigh and Purvis.