CARROLLTON, Ohio — A room filled with approximately 50 farmers and residents gathered to express their willingness to fight to keep the USDA Farm Service Agency in Carroll County.
As a result of the 2008 farm bill, the Carroll County FSA office could be closed.
However, before the doors can close, Tom Vilsack, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, ordered public hearings in all of the counties where closures were recommended.
Other counties in Ohio facing closure include Clark, Meigs, Montgomery and Perry.
The USDA is slated to close over 131 FSA offices across the county. Over 250 offices, facilities and labs across the country will be closed including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) programs at 10 locations. This includes the the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed Research Center in Coshocton County, Ohio.
When deciding which FSA offices would face closure, there were two criteria: They had to be with 20 miles from another FSA office and they had to have one permanent full-time employee.
FSA State Executive Director Steven Maurer said Carroll County currently has no full-time permanent employees. The one full-timeemployee working in the office was originally slated as a fulltime permanent employee. A hiring freeze was implemented three days prior to the paperwork being signed. The employee is currently working fulltime in the office but as a temporary employee.
The other criteria included having a limited drive of 20 miles to the nearest FSA Office. According to several people who commented at the meeting, the measure is closer to 26 miles from Carrollton to New Philadelphia. The FSA office is reporting a 20.11 mile distance.
Congress has given the approval for the changes, but Maurer told the crowded room at the Friendship Center on the Carroll County fairgrounds that they were able to stop the closure in 2007.
“I don’t know if they will be again, but minds were changed once by the people in this county and their passion for agriculture,” said Maurer.
After Maurer read a letter from Vilsack, the public was able to comment aobut the situation.
Public speaks. Ken Morrison told the crowd that he feels the public has no say in the decision.
“I’m convinced more than ever we don’t have a voice in this,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce Director Amy Rutledge said the concern is the loss of the economic benefits of having the office in Carrollton. She said farmers come to town to purchase gas, eat lunch, maybe stop at the store and have meetings with the FSA. She said now New Philadelphia will be the recipient of those economic dollars.
Clifford Miller, a supervisor for the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District,told the crowd he was concerned that once the FSA office is consolidated with Tuscarawas County, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service office will be next. He said the concern is great, especially because the NRCS, FSA and the OSU extension agent arehoused together.
He said when the county lost the 4-H extension program, everyone worked together to come up with a plan to bring it back, and stakeholders decided it could be housed with the other offices. Miller said the loss of the FSA office will increase the cost to the SWCD $5,000 a year ,which will mean they may have to re-evaluate the 4-H program’s housing and consider all options for programs housed in the same building.
Doyle Hawk, a Carroll County commissioner and a producer himself,said it is critical to farmers that the FSA office be kept open.
“It’s going to mean more expenses for the producer to be able to get their work done. We definitely need the FSA here in Carroll County,” said Hawk.
John Davis, a Carroll County resident representing 1,200 Ohio Farm Bureau members, said the OFB policy is that the FSA office should remain in Carroll County not just because of the ease of the location, but because the importance of the office is only going to grow in the future.
“With the natural gas boom here, we need to manage our natural resources more than ever,” said Davis.
The final decision will be announced within 90 days of the hearings.