July 5, 2016
The halls of Congress and offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are commonly where the decisions about agricultural policies and programs are made, but they are not the only places. For farmers, ranchers, and the scores of rural community members for whom a trip to Washington D.C. is not feasible, opportunities to get involved in agricultural policy may be available by participating in your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee.
Whether you choose to run as a candidate for the committee, or simply exercise your right to vote, engaging with your local FSA County Committee is a good way to ensure your voice is heard on important farm and food policy decisions.
FSA County offices are responsible for delivering and administering FSA farm programs at the local level, including commodity programs. They also oversee programs such programs as: the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the CRP Transition Incentives Program, the Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loan programs (including down payment loans and microloans), Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, and the Farm Storage Facility Loan program. In the likely event that FSA gains some responsibility for helping to deliver the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, the county committees would also have a role to play in promoting that program as well.
Elected FSA County Committee Members have an important role to play by helping to organize and oversee outreach for these programs. They are also responsible for hiring a County Director, who oversees the daily operations of the local FSA office. While County Committee Members do not have legislative powers, they do have considerable opportunities to make recommendations to agency leaders and legislators and push for programmatic and policy changes.
An active, representative FSA Country Committee can often persuade FSA county and state offices to make important changes to food and farm programs. Connecting with and serving as the voice of rural communities is an important function of County Committee Members. Members serve as the primary liaison between farmers, rural community members, and FSA administrators at the county and state level, and are in a unique position to elevate the concerns and suggestions of those directly affected by USDA programs.
Finally, FSA County Committee Members are tasked with ensuring that FSA decisions related to outreach, technical assistance and potential programmatic changes support and incorporate the needs of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (including minority, tribal, and women producers). Recognizing the importance of giving socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (SDFR) input on FSA programs, a finalized 2013 USDA rule supported greater SDFR representation on County Committees. The rule also gave the Secretary authority to appoint SDFRs to FSA Committees as full voting members in order to ensure fair representation based on the demographics of the county.
Nominations for FSA County Committee Members are being accepted now through August 1, 2016.
USDA will be hosting a webinar where can learn more about FSA County Committees and the committee election process on July 12, 2016 at 2:00pm EST. Click here to access the webinar, click here to learn more.
Farmers and ranchers can request nomination forms from their local USDA Service Center or online here.
Ballots will be mailed to farmers and ranchers who are eligible to vote in the elections on November 7, 2016, and the last day to return voted ballots to a USDA Service Center is December 5, 2016. Newly elected committee members will take office on January 1, 2017.
More information about FSA County Committees, committee duties and powers, nomination forms and relevant deadlines can be found here.