Mar 29 2012
Bill Could Ease Impacts of Certain Office Closures for Producers in South Dakota & Across Nation
Washington D.C. – Representative Kristi Noem today introduced legislation that could help ease the impacts of certain Farm Service Agency (FSA) office closures on producers in South Dakota and across the nation. The bill clarifies language in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) to ensure that an FSA office won’t close if area producers have to drive more than 20 miles to reach another.
“FSA offices are the heart and soul of USDA’s on-the-ground outreach and are a vital resource for South Dakotans,” said Rep. Noem. “Finding savings within USDA and other government agencies is a must, but it’s also important to try to minimize the impacts on our farmers and ranchers as much as possible. That’s exactly what my legislation does by ensuring producers aren’t forced to drive unreasonable distances to obtain the quality FSA services they rely on. I hope this sends the message to Secretary Vilsack that he cannot overstep the intent of Congress and that I will fight to ensure producers still have reasonable access to service.”
The Farm Bill prohibits closure of an FSA county or field office unless it is “located less than 20 miles from another FSA office.” However, because the language did not specifically indicate ‘driving’ miles, some offices have been targeted for closures based on “as the crow flies” miles. This is impractical considering the geographical realities of traveling. By clarifying the legislation to specify ‘driving’ miles, this legislation honors the intent of the original bill to ensure producers aren’t unduly burdened by the closing of an FSA office.
If enacted, this bill would immediately impact offices like the Kadoka FSA office in Jackson County, South Dakota, as producers would have to drive at least 23 miles to reach another FSA office.
USDA announced in January that it would be closing 259 offices, facilities and laboratories across the country, including four FSA offices in South Dakota. Soon after the announcement, Rep. Noem joined South Dakota Senators John Thune and Tim Johnson in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting additional information on the proposed closing of FSA offices to ensure that the state’s producers would still have access to quality, face-to-face FSA services.