Alton FSA office now open part-time
OREGON COUNTY -- The Missouri State Farm Service (FSA) Committee met May 23 in Columbia and voted to make six FSA offices across the state part-time offices including the Oregon County office located in Alton.
The office is located just west of Alton on Highway 160 in a building that is less than two years old.
Before the action was taken, a petition with 501 names of Oregon County farmers and others interested in keeping the local FSA office open full-time was sent to State FSA Director Tim Kelly asking for his help.
Dennis Johnson serves as the FSA Oregon County Executive Agent and declined to talk about the petition.
There is a county committee that governs the local FSA office with three board members elected by farmers in the county. Howard Dethrow serves as the chairman of the board; Dwight Holmes is vice-chair; and Jerry Strain is the other elected board member. Tammy Combs serves as an appointment to the board of directors.
Holmes has been on a one-man mission, initiating the petition and making sure it was delivered to the state committee before their May 23 meeting.
"The farmers in Oregon County have been duped," Holmes said. He said in a letter sent to Kelly that the plan was adopted with no consideration as to how the operation (FSA office) will continue.
"The state office will make those decisions as far as office hours, staffing and equipment available, not the county committee representatives elected by our farmers. They have indicated the office could be open as little as one day a week," Holmes said.
Holmes said while on the surface it appears that an FSA presence will remain in the county, its sole purpose is to create a slow timely death. "Part-time offices have been established before in Missouri and to date none are still in operation. Only one remains on the books with no offices and no staffing and all the while all others have been closed," Holmes said.
Holmes said even after he sent the petition to the state committee, he received numerous calls from people wanting to sign the petition and urging him to continue his fight to keep the office open full time.
Holmes and the local FSA committee as well as the county commission have sent letters of concern to all state and national elected officials affiliated with Oregon County.
Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson has gone on record against making the office part-time and contacted Kelly asking the state committee to reconsider their decision. In a letter to Kelly she called the proposal ill-conceived and emphasized the importance of keeping local FSA offices open.
"These offices are very important to the difficult enterprise of running a successful agriculture operation in Missouri. It makes no sense to me that USDA would decide to close these offices while Congress is attempting to write a new Farm Bill," Emerson wrote in a letter to Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Leo Warren.
FSA is the U.S. Department of Agriculture principal agency in charge of promoting a stable and abundant American food supply.
The last statistics kept in the Oregon County FSA office were from 2002 and during that year 843 farmers in the county used the service.
The local office serves the public by providing farmers credit, conservation, environmental and emergency assistance programs. The office also focuses on good land stewardship which helps preserve agriculture prosperity.
The national FSA office guides the local office in their implementation of programs legislated by Congress.
"The St. Louis County FSA office is already a part-time office and because of the restructuring will be closed," an FSA spokesperson said. He said besides Oregon County the counties where FSA offices could be affected include Jefferson, Wayne, Shannon, Webster and Dallas counties.
"We need to keep this office open. Our farmers can't and won't drive 75 to 120 miles round-trip to the FSA office in West Plains. There are a lot of questions we need answered. What days is the office going to be open? Do farmers need an appointment? Are the local records going to be kept here?" Holmes said.
Holmes said Kelly told him it could be up to 120-days before these questions are answered by the state FSA committee.