Glen Schafer, Minnesota State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), announced Wednesday, May 30, that USDA Secretary Thomas A. Vilsack has approved the closure of five FSA county offices in Minnesota, a process that will begin immediately. After the required notifications have been provided to producers, FSA employees and office landlords, the specific closure dates will be established and made publicly available.
The motivation behind the consolidations, according to Schafer, is staffing reductions due to technology and budget constraints.
“FSA lost 12 percent of the work force statewide,” Shafer said. “Periodically we do make shifts in staffing in various offices.”?
As a federal agency, FSA has been affected by widespread budget reductions made by Congress. Since 2011, the Agency has lost 1,230 permanent employees through voluntary early separation and normal retirement. In addition, FSA has been forced to reduce discretionary administrative expenses by over 30 percent in the last fiscal year alone.
He explained that letters will be sent out to all customers in the neighboring Nicollet office, allowing farmers to respond within 30 days as to whether they would prefer to go to the Brown or Blue Earth County FSA offices.
Schafer noted that another part of the reason for staffing reductions is the way in which FSA delivers their service. The agency is going to see an upgrade to provide more services in the next two years.
“Farmers as business people in the business world have seen a push toward technology,” Schafer added. “Over the next five to 10 years, we will see a dual role with the agencies putting out services over the counter and online,”?Schafer said.
Services slated to go online for the 2013 summer crop year is acreage reporting, which according to Schafer, is currently done by customers visiting the office.
While Schafer said there are currently some services offered online, but part of the technology upgrade that will happen in the next two years, includes a uniform platform that will allow for more services to be offered online.
“We have to be in a position to adapt frequently instead of inventing completely new,” Schafer said. “Acreage reporting is the first big thing that will go online and that happens each year. That, in my opinion, is something farmers will pick up on quickly.”?
“FSA places the utmost priority on ensuring that our services to producers remain strong as this consolidation process begins,” said FSA administrator Bruce Nelson. The agency will provide farmers and ranchers affected by closures an opportunity to choose the most convenient neighboring county office with which to conduct their future business with the agency. In addition, all employees in a closing office will be provided an opportunity to continue their work with FSA.
The county offices confirmed for closure in Minnesota are those located in Chisago, Nicollet, Pine, Scott and Waseca Counties. The Nicollet office is tentatively scheduled to close in August.
Page 2 of 2 - For a complete list of FSA county offices affected by this decision, go to: www.fsa.usda.gov/officeconsolidations.