Farmers from across Cannon County voiced their opposition to the proposed closure of the Farm Service Agency Office at the recent Public Hearing held at the Woodbury Lions Club Building.
The official proposal is a consolidation of the Cannon County Office. If the proposed plan is enacted, farmers participating in USDA programs will be forced to travel to Smithville or surrounding counties to conduct business.
According to Gene Davidson, State Executive Director for Tennessee Farm Service Agency (FSA) the 2008 Farm Bill outlined the procedure for closure (consolidation). Mr. Davidson also stated that FSA was facing a 36% budget reduction and must make hard decisions to meet USDA obligations.
Offices to be considered for consolidation must be within 20 miles of another FSA facility with a staff of two or less. In 2005, Peggy Miller took advantage of the early incentive and retired leaving the Cannon County Office. With Mrs. Miller’s retirement, the decision was made to maintain a staff of two employees and selecting Donny Green as CED. In reality, this decision initiated a shared management of the two offices with Mr. Green serving as Office Manager for Cannon and DeKalb.
During the meeting, several producers expressed their concern of the consolidation and offered reasons why the office should be located in Cannon instead of DeKalb. Below are a few of the comments and points provided by those in attendance:
Terry Young remarked, “Inconvenience for the local farmers and landowners would be considerable with the extra time and travel expenses to out-of-county office visits. The relocation would affect the local economy due to the loss of income for local businesses. It’s typical for individuals to drop by local restaurants, farm stores, buy gas along with other personal purchases while conducting business, thus business lost for everyone.
"Cannon County is part of a 15 County FSA District which we share with DeKalb County. The Cannon County FSA Office ranks 8th in district for money paid out to farmers while DeKalb ranked 13th. The Cannon County Office has paid out in excess of $800,000 versus a little over $600,000 in DeKalb."
Mr. Young stated that we are not the smallest, but you would think that when dealing with budget deductions the individuals making the decisions would start with the smallest and work their way to the largest.
Bob Melton, Vocational Agriculture Instructor at the Cannon County High School, pointed out that the 2007 United States Agriculture Statistics illustrates the agriculture grass roots of the County; Cannon County has more farms at 880 compared to 733 in DeKalb, more harvested cropland at 31,440 compared to 23,017 in DeKalb, larger cattle and calves inventory at 25,000 compared to 17,920 more hogs and pigs, sheep and lambs and more total farms and acres of program crops such as corn and soybean.
In comparing the ranking of the two counties, Cannon is 44th in the forage compared to 48, 25th in soybean for bean compared to 37, 31st in corn for grain compared to 41, ranked 34th in cattle and calves compared to 47 in DeKalb, 21 for layers compared to 53rd in DeKalb, Cannon County is ranked 5th in the state for goats compared to 21st in DeKalb and 17th with horses and ponies compared to 53 in DeKalb.
David George, chairman of the Cannon County Soil Conservation District, discussed the historical relevance of the office, NRCS and FSA have worked jointly on many projects throughout the year and example of this is the building terraces after World War II.
With the Country in financial distress following WWII, money was available to cost share these efforts bringing jobs to the area and introducing landowners to the benefits of conservation and other USDA projects. This teamwork and commitment to the land resources in the county have continued thru grassroots efforts throughout the years.
Fathers, brothers and family members of those attending the meeting have assisted with the implementation of many conservation practices and USDA programs throughout the years.
David George reminded those in attendance we have in access of 500 miles of roads in the County, these are country roads that our farmers and landowners will be traveling to FSA offices. Many of which will be traveling far more than 20 miles.
Common sense would tell you that the Senators and Representatives establishing the 20mile/2 employee guide line would expect those in authority to consider the County demographics when considering consolidation. Cannon County has a larger agricultural base, historically more participation in USDA programs and easier access to the county office since it is located at the intersection of two major state highways.
Located only approximately 10 miles from the DeKalb County line, one could argue that the Cannon County Office sits in a more convenient location to serve all farmers from both counties. With all things considered, it’s obvious that the local FSA office with Lindsey Locke and Donnell Ford are carrying a larger work load than a larger staffed DeKalb County Office. Fortunately, no staff will lose their job due to the consolidation. Those affected will be moved to other FSA offices.
Now is the time to voice your opinion on the fate of the Cannon County Farm Service Agency Office, we need written comments sent or emailed to the Gene Davidson with the Tennessee Farm Service Agency.
Written comments may be submitted for consideration up to 10 calendar days from the date of the public meeting. All written comments must indicate the county to which you are referring, and should be submitted to: Gene Davidson, State Executive Director, Tennessee Farm Service Agency, 579 US Courthouse - 801 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203.
Comments can be emailed directly at Gene.Davidson@tn.usda.gov or Ty Samples at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember to state the County of Reference. All comments must be completed before Saturday, February 18th.