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Farmers oppose closing of FSA office

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 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Thirteen years ago, farmers in Bullitt and surrounding counties heard a similar story.

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The federal government was looking to make cutbacks in the Farm Service Agency and that would result in a reorganization in its office locations.

When that happened, services for Bullitt, Spencer and Jefferson counties were all located into a facility in Mount Washington.

Now, the latest round of cutbacks may mean that farmers in those counties will have to seek assistance in new locations by the end of the year.

John McCauley, state director of the FSA, was in Shepherdsville recently to briefly give an overview on what might happen and to listen to comments from local farmers.

“We’re here to listen,” said McCauley.

Several weeks ago, the mandate came down from Washington to start looking at the possible consolidation of 131 offices in 32 states. In Kentucky, the list included five possible closures, including the Mount Washington facility.

If the local office was closed, McCauley said farmers in Jefferson and Spencer counties would go to Shelby County for services. Bullitt County farmers would go to Nelson County.

If there are closures, McCauley said there were no plans for any employee to lose their job.

With that said, several in the crowd of about 50 farmers posed a few questions.

George Henderman had a whole list of questions and concerns over the proposal.

One concern was that whether the county would continue to have representation on the committee.

Another issue was why the federal government would remodel the Mount Washington office only to turn around and then close it.

“It just don’t seem to be a good use of taxpayer dollars,” said Henderman, a local committee member.

He wondered by Nelson County couldn’t come to Bullitt County to receive farm services.

Cindy Badder, an employee of soil conservation district, also wondered why the office would be remodeled and then closed. The space is shared with the Natural Resources Soil Conservation agency and they also share some of the expenses.

With the age of some of the farmers, Badder felt they didn’t need to be driving the extra distance to go to Bardstown for services.

Andy Newton, who farms in Shelby and Spencer counties, would actually be closer to the Shelbyville FSA office.

However, he said he much rather come to Mount Washington where paperwork is done in about half the time.

He was also upset that the promises made during a similar meeting 13 years ago were not fulfilled.

Jack Trumbo, the new FSA director in Shelby County, understood the concerns about closing an office. However, he said a new FSA office is planned for Shelby County and the staff there would welcome anyone who is relocated.

“Shelby County will welcome you,” said Trumbo.

While not supporting closure of offices, he said most do believe the federal government needs to make sure its agencies are run like a business, which is what farmers have done for years.

When asked for a showing of hands, no one in the crowd wanted to see the local office closed, which didn’t surprise McCauley, who is conducting similar meetings in other areas of the state.

One message that is clear is the importance of farming in Kentucky. He said there are 85,000 farms covering 14 million acres. Agriculture is a $5 billion business in Kentucky and 54 percent of the land is still used for agricultural purposes.

“Our state wouldn’t survive without agriculture,” said McCauley who added a decision should be made within the next few months.

 

What is the local impact?

If the consolidation proposal is followed, the current Mount Washington location could close.

Farmers in Spencer and Jefferson counties would be asked to visit the Shelby County office. In Bullitt County, farmers will have to travel to Bardstown to visit the Nelson County office.

The FSA offices conduct a variety of services for the farmers in the nation.

In the 2010 fiscal year, payments in Kentucky included: $307 million in the commodity program; $65 million in conservation programs; $28.9 million in disaster assistance; and $124 million in farm loans.

Not including any loans, Bullitt County FSA payments were $752,000 for that fiscal year. In Spencer County, payments were made of $2 million in FSA programs. And Jefferson County payments of over $289,000 were distributed.

For more information on the program, go to www.fsa.usda.gov.