Butterfield Urges USDA Secretary to Keep State Farm Service Offices Open

Feb 9, 2012
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opposing the proposed closures of several U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in North Carolina.  As part of an effort to cut its budget, the USDA released a proposal in January suggesting the closure of a number of FSA offices, including those in Chowan, Hertford and Warren counties, which provides critical access to USDA services for hundreds of farmers, many of them African-American.

Mr. Butterfield wrote, “Each of these FSA offices serves counties with diverse populations.  Hertford and Warren are both majority African American counties, and Chowan is a 35 percent African American county.  As you know, USDA’s relationship with black farmers has been fraught as a result of historical discrimination, especially within FSA programs.  I applaud this Administration’s efforts to confront these longstanding discrimination issues.  However, eliminating FSA offices in these counties will severely limit access to USDA services for black farmers in eastern North Carolina, which is a step in the wrong direction.”

The full text of the letter to Secretary Vilsack is below.

 

February 9, 2012

The Honorable Thomas Vilsack

Secretary

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I strongly oppose the proposed consolidation of several U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in North Carolina.  In particular, I bring to your attention three county offices targeted for closure in the First Congressional District: Chowan, Hertford and Warren.  I urge you to reconsider these proposed closures and find other options for budgetary savings.  These offices provide critical access to USDA services for hundreds of farmers, many of them African-American.

In the “Blueprint for Stronger Service” released January 10, 2012, USDA proposed that the Chowan County FSA would be consolidated into Perquimans County, Hertford County FSA into Gates County, and Warren County FSA into Vance County.  Farmers in these targeted counties rely heavily on the services and loans provided by USDA at their local FSA office. These are large rural counties whose primary economic driver is agriculture.  Combined, these offices provide services to over 2,000 farms.  Moreover, the FSA offices in these counties provide a combined $22 million in annual benefits to North Carolina famers, at an annual cost of just three-quarters of a million dollars, making them three of the most efficient offices in the state. 

Farmers visit these offices upwards of ten times annually, and these offices are often the only way for them to navigate an otherwise unwieldy bureaucracy.  Additionally, these FSAs frequently house the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services, providing even greater access to valuable services to farmers and landowners.  Closing county offices will only make accessing these services more difficult. 

Each of these FSA offices serves counties with diverse populations.  Hertford and Warren are both majority African American counties, and Chowan is a 35 percent African American county.  As you know, USDA’s relationship with black farmers has been fraught as a result of historical discrimination, especially within FSA programs.  I applaud this Administration’s efforts to confront these longstanding discrimination issues.  However, eliminating FSA offices in these counties will severely limit access to USDA services for black farmers in eastern North Carolina, which is a step in the wrong direction.

I understand that you must streamline USDA to comply with draconian budget cuts championed by Republicans in Congress.  This is neither an easy nor enviable task.  However, I ask that you carefully consider the consequences of eliminating these FSA offices as a component of your cost-cutting efforts. 

Therefore, I urge you to reconsider your proposed closure of the FSA offices in Chowan, Hertford, and Warren counties.  They are indispensable to the farmers who depend upon them.  Closing the offices would only limit access for underserved populations.  I am open to working with you to identify alternative cost-savings within USDA in lieu of the savings that would be achieved by closing these offices. 

I look forward to a response before any final decision is made.

Thank you very much.

           

Very truly yours,

           

G. K. Butterfield

Member of Congress