U-S-D-A officials have abandoned their plan to close more than 700 Farm Service Agency offices nationwide, including 22 in Iowa. U-S-D-A administrators had proposed a “modernization plan” that included closing and consolidating F-S-A offices.
U-S-D-A spokesman Ed Loyd says there is a “great need” for better equipment in F-S-A offices, as well as better training for the people who work in those offices. He says the department is backing away from its original plan, which they called “F-S-A Tomorrow.” Loyd says the agency will work with farmers, ranchers and members of Congress to find other ways to improve the operations of those F-S-A offices. “The bottom line in all of this effort is trying to open the dialogue and see how we can really look into the future to better serve people,” Loyd says. “There have been a lot of changes in rural America and we just want to make sure that we’re responsive to the needs that are out there.”
A bill passed three weeks ago in the U.S. Senate would have delayed the U-S-D-A’s office closure plan, and now that the plan has been abandoned, skeptical senators are reworking the bill to try to ensure “improvements” in the agency. Loyd downplays the conflict with the senators. “All of us want to find a way to better serve farmers and ranchers,” Loyd says. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Loyd says he does not know just who in his agency made the final decision to abandon the closure plan. Loyd says it was a “collective” decision to “back away” after the agency was criticized — criticism Loyd describes as “responses” to the modernization plan. “This whole process was very valuable in opening that dialogue,” Loyd says.
The Senate Ag Committee was to hold a hearing on the proposed F-S-A office closures this Thursday, but that was canceled yesterday (Tuesday) after the U-S-D-A backed away from its plan. Ag Department officials argued it was time to consolidate Farm Service Agency offices just as farm equipment dealers and other businesses that serve farmers had consolidated operations to save money. The Farm Service Agency’s sprawling computer system, for example, connects the government’s two-thousand-three-hundred-51 F-S-A offices, but it dates back to the 1980s and cannot connect to the Internet.