May 31, 2017
The power to make decisions about agricultural policies and programs lies not only with Congress and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials, but also in the hands of farmers, ranchers, and rural community members across the country. Stakeholders interested in being involved in federal decision making without taking a trip to Washington D.C., should explore the possibility of participating in their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee. Whether you choose to run as a candidate, 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 policy decisions.
In addition to the normal responsibilities of the County Committees (e.g. making decisions regarding existing FSA commodity or conservation program components), Committee members may be asked to provide feedback on new or emerging issues. For example, USDA recently released the details of a full reorganization of the Department, which includes co-locating the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Risk Management Agency, and FSA under a single Mission Area with a single Under Secretary. There is still a great deal of uncertainty around the proposal, and the County Committees provide a venue for farmers and ranchers to weight in on the details. If USDA gets it right, better coordination across the three agencies could benefit producers. If the Department gets it wrong, however, important agency functions could be eliminated and field offices may be closed. Now is the time to ask questions and weigh in on the reorganization.
FSA County offices are responsible for delivering and administering FSA programs at the local level. These include the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), CRP Transition Incentives Program, Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loan programs (including down payment loans and microloans), Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, Farm Storage Facility Loan program, and National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program.
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 Executive 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 to push for programmatic and policy changes.
An active, representative FSA County Committee can often persuade FSA county and state offices to make needed changes to farm programs. Committee Members are the primary liaisons between farmers, community members, and FSA administrators at the county and state level. As such, they are in a unique position to elevate the concerns and suggestions of those directly affected by USDA programs to those that can implement change.
FSA County Committee Members are also asked to serve as a check to ensure that FSA decisions related to outreach, technical assistance and potential programmatic changes support and incorporate the needs of socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers and ranchers (including minority, tribal, and women producers). Recognizing the importance of incorporating SDA producers’ input on FSA programs, a 2013 USDA rule supported greater SDA farmer and rancher representation on County Committees. The rule also gave USDA’s Secretary authority to appoint SDA producers directly to FSA Committees as full voting members in order to ensure fair representation based on the demographics of the county.
County Committees consist of three to eleven members and meet approximately once a month. Nearly 8,000 farmers and ranchers across the country are currently serving on the committees.
With the 2018 Farm Bill approaching and decisions about fiscal year (FY) 2018 program budgets being made now, this is a critical time for stakeholders to get more involved. The more engaged farmers, ranchers and rural community members are, the better the needs of those constituencies will be reflected in federal programs and policies.
The nomination period for Committee Members begins on June 15, 2017 and continues through August 1, 2017. Nomination forms can be obtained from a 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 6, 2017. The last day to return voted ballots to a USDA Service Center is December 4, 2017. Newly elected Committee Members will take office on January 1, 2018.
More information about FSA County Committees, committee duties and powers, nomination forms and relevant deadlines can be found here.