CARROLLTON, Ohio – The message from Carroll County residents rang loud and clear Aug. 27: Don’t close our FSA office.
A public meeting at the Friendship Center in Carrollton brought out about 160 people to discuss a plan that would consolidate Carroll County’s Farm Service Agency with the Tuscarawas County FSA in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
At the meeting, a panel of state office staff and Ohio Farm Service state committee members listened to residents give a long list of reasons why their FSA office should stay right where it is.
The plan. The Carrollton office, which works with about 320 operators, is one of six Ohio FSA county offices being considered for consolidation. Other counties up for consolidation are Perry, Erie, Warren, Lorain and Montgomery.
All of these counties operate under shared management and would be eliminated under the proposed restructuring plan.
Dorothy Leslie, chairperson of the Ohio FSA state committee, said the goal of the restructuring is to make all FSA offices more effective and efficient.
When USDA asked Ohio to review its 72 county FSA offices last year, counties were picked for consolidation based on factors like average total workload, shared management, the number of farms represented, distance from other FSA offices and administrative costs.
The state also looked at how much money could be saved through consolidation.
Leslie said the number of FSA programs has increased drastically in recent years, placing a burden on local program technicians. Combining two offices would allow the technicians to back each other up and relieve some of that pressure.
“We’ve got to protect our staff, too,” she added.
There would be no job loss under the consolidation and Carroll County’s two program technicians would be transferred to Tuscarawas County.
Carroll County farmers could use the Tuscarawas facility or chose to get their services from another nearby county.
Not impressed. But farmers who spoke up at the meeting said the plan just won’t work and it’s critical for the Carroll County FSA office to stay in Carroll County.
Many who spoke said the office is already efficient and effective, so there’s no need to consolidate in order to reach that goal.
“These girls are already very efficient at getting it done,” said Monty Morrison, a beef and sheep producer.
Dairy farmer Mark Lumley asked the state to consider the stress and lost work hours for farmers if they have to drive to FSA offices in Tuscarawas County.
“Think about the efficiency of those of us out here,” he said, pointing to his fellow audience members.
Local farmer John Davis said that while the state may save money with the proposed plan, farmers will lose money in terms of travel expenses and lost work hours. Plus, moving the office would take people away from the county, instead of bringing them in.
“You’re taking a step backward for us,” he told the panel.
Local leaders also took a stand for the FSA office.
County Commissioner Bob Herron said the future of farming will suffer without a local FSA resource.
“If we’re going to keep our family farms, we’ve got to take care of our young farmers, as well as old farmers,” he said.
Some farmers also worried that the decision has already been made and the public meetings won’t affect the outcome. However, Leslie assured the crowd that nothing has been set in stone.
“This is not a done deal,” she said.
Waiting. Meetings will be held in all six of the counties being considered for consolidation. The proposed plan may be revised based on feedback from those meetings, but regardless of the result, the process will likely take at least six months, according to John Stevenson, state executive director.
U.S. Rep. Zack Space said the 2007 farm bill includes a law that would ban the closure or consolidation of agricultural offices for one year after a new farm bill is implemented. The purpose, he said, is to give farmers a chance to adjust to the new bill.
However, the state FSA office had to act under current laws and the 2007 farm bill probably won’t be passed in time to affect the proposed restructuring plan. And it’s unlikely the farm bill would be retroactive, Space added.
Roy Klopfenstein, a member of the Ohio FSA state committee, closed the meeting with encouragement, telling producers that the state committee is not their enemy.
“I hear what you said. I understand what you said,” he told the crowd.
For those who didn’t attend the meeting, written comments on the proposed plan will be accepted until Aug. 31.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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