|Both offices closed the week of Sept. 24, as part of a USDA budget cutting plan.||"They said they were closing, but I didn't realize it would be so soon," one Fulton County farmer, who did not want to be identified, said. "It's a shame. That office has been here for a long time."|
A news release from the state FSA office in Little Rock stated, "Linda Newkirk, State Executive Director for the Arkansas State Farm Services Agency (FAS) today announced that, as of Sept. 25, 2012, the Fulton County office will be officially closed. An identical release listed Izard County's official closing as Sept. 26.
The news releases gave this explanation, "Over the past three years, FSA has faced a variety of budget-related challenges," said Bruce Nelson, Administrator for the Farm Service Agency. "Through a targeted office consolidation effort that includes 125 offices nationwide, FSA is striving to balance significant budget cuts, staff reductions and increasing workloads while focusing the efforts of our staff on high quality service. There are 2,119 offices remaining in the FSA network to do just that."
"The movers came in and boxed everything up and were moved out in about an hour and a half," a person who observed the Salem office closing said. As of Sept. 26, visitors will find an empty office and a note on the door saying, "Effective Sept. 25, Fulton County FSA office will be closed. For FSA service, please contact us in Sharp County at 870-994-2006 or visit us at our Sharp County location, 21 B Court Road, Ash Flat, Ark."
Fulton County farmers will see a familiar face in the Sharp County office. Barbara Estes, who managed the Fulton County office has been transferred to Sharp County.
Izard County farmers are to use the Stone County office. The address is 207 Martin Street in Mountain View. The telephone number is 870-269-3726.
Fulton County's longtime FSA Director David Curtis is now the County Executive Director for Stone County. He is very familiar with Izard County farmers, since he has served as director of both Fulton and Izard County offices for the past seven years.
When word of the closings spread last January, farmers and community leaders filled up courthouses in both counties to make a plea to keep at least one of the offices open, as FSA Director Newkirk and other FSA officials held public hearings to collect public comment.
In Izard County, State Representative Tommy Wren told FSA officials that the Izard county office serves a high percentage of farmers, and, years ago, Izard and Fulton Counties found a creative way to save the agency money.
"In 2005, Fulton and Izard Counties decided they would do more with less by sacrificing -- a shared management agreement that has saved the agency over $420,000," Wren testified. "We've got a shared agreement in Izard and Fulton Counties and we are doing more with less, and we're getting penalized."
In Fulton County, those who testified emphasized the value of hometown, face to face service.
"I feel like Fulton County's kind of isolated. It's way up here by itself and it's a big county. It would be a hardship, myself, if I had to travel to Sharp County, back and forth," Jim Ledford said.
"You're taking service away from people who need it most. Here in Fulton County technology (computers) is not an option for aging farmers. Most of us just won't be able to do that. We need face to face help with most of our problems. So, I believe the Farm Service Agency needs to stay in Fulton county." Kathy Long said to loud applause.
While the Izard and Fulton county arguments were rejected and their FSA offices remained on the closure list, one concession was made. Producers in Viola or other western Fulton County locations can, for example, choose to be served by the Baxter County FSA office, if it is more convenient. Option cards have been sent to farmers in Fulton and Izard County to choose a different office if they desire.
The big question raised by farmers and members of the FSA county committees is whether many, who currently use FSA programs, will stop taking advantage of crop insurance and other programs because their FSA office is further away.
|In June, as his family was named Fulton County Farm Family of the year, Bryan Guffey, of Viola, talked about how much FSA protection against natural disasters and drought has helped him in the past.|
Guffey expressed hope, producers will still use FSA programs. "It's going to be inconvenient," Guffey said of having to go to Ash Flat or Mountain View for FSA services. "But the programs save you money, so I can't believe people won't still use them."