FSA office consolidation moves ahead
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 06/25/2012 1:58 PM
Landowners and operators in Waseca, Scott, Pine, Chisago and Nicollet counties should be receiving a letter from the Farm Service Agency late this week or next regarding the consolidation of offices.
Minnesota Farm Service Agency state executive director Linda Hennen last week announced that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had approved the closure of five Farm Service Agency offices in Minnesota.
About 8,000 customers are impacted, said Minnesota Farm Service Agency executive officer Glenn Schafer.
The consolidation only impacts the Farm Service Agency offices located in the USDA Service Centers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil and Water Conservation District will stay in the county they serve as of now.
Waseca County farmer Richard Androli, who is also chairman of the Waseca County Commissioners, is disappointed by the news.
"As a commissioner, that's another four jobs that are leaving our county," Androli said. "Four more jobs being shipped out to a bigger regional center. As a farmer myself, it sure was helpful to go in there and do the one-stop shopping - you could go from one desk to the next."
The workload in Waseca County was rated as enough for 4.5 full time equivalents. Retirements reduced the staff to two and retirees couldn't be replaced because of a hiring freeze.
That freeze has now been lifted as staff levels have fallen below the 465 state staffing ceiling through attrition, early retirement and normal turnover, Schafer said. About five people will be hired.
In Nicollet County, county commissioner Marie Dranttel will miss the convenience of having an office four blocks away.
Dranttel, a certified public accountant who raises pumpkins, melons and squash for farmers market, said she has been spoiled by easy access to the Farm Service Agency in St. Peter.
"It's tough to lose a local employer that provides a service to local people," she said.
Both Dranttel and Androli appealed the decision to lawmakers and Farm Service Agency staff.
Dranttel said the emails and letters seemed to fall on deaf ears and that the decision to consolidate the offices was already a done deal before the public hearings were held in February.
Androli spoke with staff members of Congressman Tim Walz and said they were sympathetic, but they didn't know if they could intercede that far along in the process. He said he got the impression they would have gotten better results had they appealed the decision before it was announced and before they knew about it.
At the February meeting in Waseca, Hennen said the deal wasn't done and that Vilsack was following the rules as laid out in the farm bill.
Now, it's a done deal and consolidation will proceed immediately. The letter coming from the Farm Service Agency will detail options available to producers, Schafer said.
Farmers will have the opportunity to select a different office than the one they are slated to move to. Waseca County will consolidate into Steele; Scott into Dakota; Pine into Kanabec; Chisago into Isanti and Nicollet into Blue Earth. They have 30 days to respond after receiving the letter, Schafer said.
If they are OK with their paperwork going to the consolidated office, they need not respond. Their paperwork will be transferred to the new office in early August; Schafer is projecting around Aug. 8.
If farmers to transfer to a continguous county, they have one opportunity to do that at any time, Schafer said. However, if they want to transfer to a noncontiguous county, that must be done in the 30-day window, he said.
The staff members working in the offices slated to close will be reassigned to the consolidated office, Schafer said.
Androli didn't know which office he would go to last week, as he is kind of in the middle of Steele, Le Sueur and Blue Earth counties.
County committee members for the affected counties will serve through 2013, following this fall's election. The consolidated districts will be redistricted in 2013, with another election in fall 2013. The new committee will begin serving in 2014.