Meeting held to rally FSA office support in Wessington SpringsWESSINGTON SPRINGS — Several residents are leading an effort to keep Wessington Springs’ Farm Service Agency office in town.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Several residents are leading an effort to keep Wessington Springs’ Farm Service Agency office in town.
In an informal meeting at the Humm Dinger gas station Thursday, area producers, officials, business owners and volunteers said the pending office closure could ruin the town.
“This office closing isn’t affecting just two people’s families, it’s affecting the whole community,” said Natalie Wolfskill, area development coordinator for Wessington Springs. The two current FSA employees have the option of staying on with FSA in a different office or taking early retirement.
The state FSA office recently announced the federal government is considering four county offices in South Dakota for closure — Jerauld, Jackson, Harding and Campbell. If the proposal goes through, Jerauld County’s office will consolidate with Sanborn County, leaving producers with a gap in convenient coverage, according to opponents of the closures.
The FSA administers farm commodity, crop insurance, credit, environmental, conservation and emergency assistance programs for farmers and ranchers.
State FSA Executive Director Craig Schaunaman and other officials visited Wessington Springs Monday to gather public input regarding the closure. Schaunaman said the information would be passed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who would relay the information to Congress for a final decision.
Producers use the FSA office daily, said Jerry Caffee, who has a cattle operation and owns businesses in Wessington Springs. Caffee said an average of five or six people visit the office every day, which works out to about 1,250 people filtering through town each year because they visit the FSA office.
“Just talking to people in the last few days, I think the impact is a lot more serious than what I thought,” Caffee said of the possible closure. “First I looked at it from the standpoint of a producer. Then I threw in the impact on the town and community. It changes the whole dynamic.”
In the last few years, Wessington Springs has lost several businesses to fires, most recently Springs Auto. Wolfskill said it’s already difficult to attract new business, let alone rebuild.
The convenience of having an FSA office within decent driving distance also has its benefits. However, that could be a thing of the past if the closure happens. Producer Quentin Burg, of Wessington Springs, said producers around the county may have to drive as far as 50 to 70 miles just to get to an FSA office.
“We’ve got a small ag operation on the sideline too. I don’t have a half day to dedicate to business,” said Kim Baker, who owns Baker’s Repair and Baker’s Design in Wessington Springs. “When the girls at the FSA office were free, I could slip away and do paperwork.”
For some producers, the local FSA office is currently only 30 minutes or less away. If it were to close, producers on the west side of the county will have a longer drive — 50 miles to Chamberlain, Miller or Huron, and 70 miles to Mitchell, Burg said.
Community leaders are also worried the loss of the FSA office would not only draw people to larger towns, but force people to move from Wessington Springs.
Wolfskill said it’s inevitable that residents who have to go to a larger town to do business at an FSA office will likely buy essentials there because “it’s an all-day process.”
“They’re not going to have time to get back here and do their shopping,” Wolfskill said.
Although many said the town would retain many of its loyal customers, the office’s closure would still take business with it out of town.
The Rev. John Paulson, an outgoing member of area development board, said a closure like this wouldn’t affect a big city, but a loss of even two jobs in Wessington Springs is crucial.
“Everything is connected in a rural community,” he said. “When one business closes in a small community, everyone feels it.”
Caffee is encouraging everyone in Wessington Springs and Jerauld County to contact state representatives to voice support in keeping the FSA office. He also suggests anyone interested contact Schaunaman’s office to voice their support.