Cuts hit FSA: Services, programs to feel hit

Federal budget cuts the past two years and additional cuts expected for 2013 is forcing a local farm executive to trim services for area farmers.

Auglaize County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Anita Green said the U.S. Farm Service Agency (FSA) experienced 12 percent budget cuts in 2011 and 2012, with additional cuts forthcoming in 2013. To help with the budget crisis, all federal employees experienced a wage freeze the past two years.

“From a budget standpoint, the way we are doing business will change a lot because we just don’t have the money,” Green told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “For this office and surrounding offices, the budget cuts mean we have less money to pay for fixed and variable expenses in our day-to-day operations — that is our rent, our supplies — as well as for some of our paid-for measurement services such as GIS and GPS measurements and bin measurements.

“A lot of those services we have had to discontinue because we don’t have the travel dollars to get someone out to the field or the time to send someone out there,” she said.

In the past three years, she has watched her budget drop from $280,000 in 2010 to $220,000 in 2012.

Personnel cuts have come through attrition and not permitting overtime hours. Green was not able to replace Judy Werling when she retired in 2011, so she is down one person. Green also is not permitted to hire intermittent or temporary work force to help during the busier sign-up times.

“I have not been able to bring those folks in because we have no money so it will make for a lot of congestion,” Green said, noting fewer works will have to serve the approximately 2,600 farmers and producers in the county. “None of the employees are permitted to incur overtime or compensatory time, so we are working within our regular business owners. So make an appointment to make sure you can be processed.”

Another service also is going through a transformation. In the past, the FSA office provided farmers with printed maps but they will not be doing that this year because of the cost of printing the maps. Green said they will provide the maps electronically by e-mail or they could copy them to a flash drive or thumb drive.

Livestock producers used to rely on FSA personnel for grain bin measurements, which would be used for government and insurance reports. Green cannot afford to have anyone leave the office so the service had to be halted.

They also cannot provide personnel for GPS services if a farmer is selling off a parcel of land, constructing a new building or even employing a conservation practice. They would GPS to determine the border.

“We can tell them what point to come from and provide limited services, but we cannot send someone out in the field,” Green said.

With the increase cost for paper and postage, the Auglaize County FSA newsletter will no longer be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. Green said she would mail out approximately 2,600 newsletters, but she will now make the information available through GovDelivery.

“GovDelivery will allow producers to subscribe to newsletters, bulletins, news releases,” Green said. “At present, we have 700 producers signed up and they can go the FSA Internet site and sign up or they can come into the office and we will load them.”

An added benefit is they can have prompts texted to their cell phones or have the FSA office text their cell phones about programs and deadlines.

“We have moved to the modern age and modern technology,” Green said. “I am on a task force that is working to develop the templates for the bulletins and monthly newsletters. My next newsletter will be sent by GovDelivery or electronically.”

With the new electronic media, farmers and producers can subscribe to specific areas or tailored to the areas they want or desire, Green said.