Ranchers and Farmers Concerned About FSA Office Closure
Over 100 Lee County agricultural producers met with state and federal officials at the Lincoln Community Center Friday afternoon. They were there to learn about the proposed closing of the Lee County Farm Service Agency office in Giddings and consolidating it with the LaGrange office. This consolidation of offices is part of Congress’ plan to cut $ 3 billion from the Department of Agriculture’s budget.
James Douglass, Acting State Executive Director, opened the meeting with a synopsis of the rules concerning closure and consolidation that were contained in the 2008 Farm Bill. The rule he emphasized stated that if there were two offices 20 or fewer miles apart, and one had two or fewer employees, the office with the smallest staff would be closed. Lee County has two full time employees and Fayette County has three. The two offices are located less that 20 Euclidean miles (as the crow flies) apart. He stated that in 1995 there were 1,136 FSA employees in Texas. As of January 2012 there are 552.
The program was then turned over to Juan M. Garcia, Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs. Mr. Garcia opened the floor to those who had signed up to speak. Judge Paul Fischer stated that in a time when jobs are a priority, this closure would be taking two jobs away from Lee County. Also, the producers represented are more mature and driving to LaGrange could be dangerous.
A representative from the Lee- Bastrop County Farm Bureau stated, “It seems like anytime there are cuts to be made it comes from agriculture. These people are part of America’s food supply. When there is no food, there will no need for other programs.”
To the enjoyment of the crowd, Clarence Schimank had a solution: Close Bastrop and Fayette offices and leave Lee County alone.
In the question and answer session, several pertinent questions were asked. How many people does each office serve? No facts on hand to answer. Do Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis counties have offices? Dallas and Tarrant do not, the other largely urban counties have at least one office, and Harris has two.
Mr. Garcia was asked about the fact that Lee County producers received an estimated $100,000 more in program benefits in 2010 than Fayette County FSA. He said he could not comment, because he did not have the figures.
Is Texas taking an unfair hit with 11.5% of the total closures? California is losing none, Illinois none, Washington none, Connecticut none and Virginia none. In political terms, Texas is a red state and the others are blue states.
John Kalmbach offered probably the best try for saving the Lee County FSA: Get Garcia a petition protesting the closure and send it to our elected officials in Washington D.C. Congressman Michael McCaul, Senator John Cornyn, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would receive the petitions.
Grass roots movements can work; witness the demise of the Trans Texas Corridor.