Appropriations Subcommittee Hears from Vilsack on USDA Budget

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard about the 2015 USDA budget from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday morning. One issue that got some attention was the proposed realignment of Farm Service Agency offices across the country. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor noted that is likely to result in quite a number of office closures. But Vilsack said he does not anticipate any closures in 2014 while the agency undergoes a work-study analysis. He told the Senators that roughly 30 offices currently have no full-time employees and there are 111 offices with one employee and within 20 miles of another office. Vilsack said he believes it's time to take a look at how to restructure. The Secretary would like to see three types of FSA offices in the future - central offices with a supervisor and three or more employees; branch offices with at least three employees, but no supervisor; and satellite offices where people could obtain information by appointment. Vilsack said the restructuring effort isn't about saving money - but about modernizing the system. Part of that modernization effort - according to Vilsack - is designed to make the offices a one-stop shop for farmers looking for information on rural development programs, how they might take advantage of conservation programs - and have the FSA offices act as a bridge or connector with those other opportunities. But Montana Senator Jon Tester warned there could be dire consequences for farmers with fewer FSA offices if they don't get their programs in a timely manner. Vilsack assured the Senator that wouldn't happen.

On the new farm bill - Secretary Vilsack said farmers should be able to apply for disaster assistance by April 15th - with checks hopefully coming shortly thereafter. The timetable for implementing Agriculture Revenue Coverage and Price Loss Coverage is less certain. Vilsack said farmers should be able to update their productivity and production records late summer. By early fall he said they should get a sense of where USDA is in terms of what the regulations will be and the elections they have to make. The hope is that farmers will be in a position to make elections and be informed about them by the end of the year.

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