Originally created 08/25/06

Farm agency might close county offices



The U.S. Farm Service Agency, a lifeline for farmers to federal commodity programs, is considering plans to close some of its county offices around the country, including 16 in Georgia, officials say.

The offices that would be closed include one in Greene County - between Thomson and Atlanta - but none of the other east Georgia or Augusta-area offices, including those in Burke and Richmond counties, would be affected, said John Stone, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood.

"This plan to close offices was something that started four or five years ago," he said. "The FSA decided to close small offices all over the country, including those in Georgia."

As a result of the debate that followed, more local input was sought on which offices would be consolidated, Mr. Stone said. The original proposal called for the closing of 38 Georgia offices.

The offices that would be closed, in addition to Greene County, are: Dougherty, Pulaski, Seminole, Ware, Wheeler, Baker, Evans, Hall, Houston, Johnson, Lanier, Brantley, Walker, Coweta and Irwin/Ben Hill.

Steven Connelly, the agency's deputy administrator for field operations in Washington, said the consolidation is designed to improve efficiency and provide better services to farmers.

But farmer Armond Morris, chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission, said any reduction needs to be carefully considered.

"If we have to drive 50 or 75 miles, it could ... take a lot of time during the busy season," he said.

Farmers rely on their local FSA offices and visit them often to submit reports and fill out forms that determine the amount they receive in federal crop payments. When there's an agricultural disaster, such as the drought that resulted in 155 of Georgia's 159 counties recently being declared disaster areas, farmers go to their county FSA offices to document their losses and apply for assistance.