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Groups fight FSA closure plan

A representative from the American Corn Growers Association said his and more than 20 other organizations have sent letters to the U.S. House of Representatives requesting a moratorium on the closing of Farm Service Agency offices across the country.

A representative from the American Corn Growers Association said his and more than 20 other organizations have sent letters to the U.S. House of Representatives requesting a moratorium on the closing of Farm Service Agency offices across the country.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., has introduced legislation that, if passed, would postpone the planned closings until one year after the passage of the new farm bill. Fourteen others in Congress are co-sponsoring the moratorium.

FSA offices in South Dakota that would be closed under the current plan are in Woonsocket, Kadoka, Highmore, Timber Lake, Mound City and Dupree. FSA officials say the closings would save $100,000 annually.

Larry Mitchell of the American Corn Growers Association said the number of participating organizations should increase the chances of the legislation passing.

"It goes to show that there are a lot of farm organizations concerned about the staffing at their local FSA offices," he said. "I was very pleased with the signatures we got and pleased to see that people were paying attention."

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Mitchell said he believes there is more support from organizations across the nation, but a busy week in Washington prevented others sympathetic to the cause from issuing similar correspondence.

"This has been a very busy week in Washington with the farm bill, disaster bill and a bunch of other things hitting agriculture," he said. "A fellow can only do so much in one day and finding my e-mail and getting it signed in time might not have been one of those things they got done."

Mitchell is also concerned with what he considers to be substandard computer equipment being used in FSA offices across the nation. The FSA computers, which Mitchell said date back to the early 1980s, are making things increasingly difficult for FSA workers to perform their duties.

These and other concerns are a sign that something must be done to improve the system, he said.

"We've got to address the computer problem and we've got to see what this new farm bill is going to be like," he said. "We've got to also get that disaster bill implemented before we go shutting down the infrastructure for delivery of these programs.

To Mitchell, the passage of a disaster bill that would provide monies to farmers and ranchers across the nation is the "hottest" issue right now. Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $3.5 billion in disaster aid, although Mitchell doesn't expect the bill to meet full approval.

"The president has already sent notice that he's going to veto the bill," he said. "It's hard to understand why -- with the levees breaking, farms flooded and people in Kansas burying their loved ones (after a deadly tornado last week) -- the president of the United States decides that he wants to veto legislation that's trying to help."

Among the groups backing a delay in closing FSA offices are the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas, American Corn Growers Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Hispanic Organizations Leadership Alliance, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Lead of Rural Voters, National Association of Farmer Elected Committees, the National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Organization, National Farmers Union, National Grange, National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, Rural Coalition, Soybean Producers of America, and several state chapters of Women Involved in Farm Economics.

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