ELIZABETHTON — The Farm Service Agency office in Carter County is one of 131 county offices in 32 states that has been targeted for closure under the United States Department of Agriculture’s Blueprint for Stronger Service.
According to the department’s fact sheet on the closures: “The plan takes a realistic view of the needs of American agriculture in a challenging budget climate.”
More than 2,100 FSA offices will remain open. Tennessee is one of the hardest-hit states, with nine offices set for closure. The USDA’s fact sheet said in most cases the offices to be closed were either not staffed or staffed with just one or two employees and within 20 miles of another office.
The Carter County office is staffed with two employees and another employee from the Sullivan County office works in the Carter County office three days a week.
Employees in the Carter County office said they have been told by officials in Washington that they could not comment on the plan.
Larry Crumley, president of the Carter County Cattlemen’s Association, said he understood the federal government’s need to trim its budget but said “It always seems to be the poor old farmer who takes the cut.”
He said the closing will not only impact the FSA. He is a member of the Carter County Soil Conservation Service. He said that organization uses office space provided by the FSA and they have been told they will have to find new office space.
Crumley, like many farmers in the county, works another job besides being a farmer. Getting up at the traditional early hours of a farmer, his day is usually not finished until after 7:30 p.m. Now farmers like him are being asked to drive an additional 40 miles round-trip to do business with the Farm Service Agency.
He said the same plan was presented in 2007 and it caused a great deal of concern among local farmers. A well-attended public meeting was held at the Carter County Courthouse. Ultimately, the decision to close the office was rescinded.
Crumley is not as hopeful this time, saying “the decision has already been made.”
He said the two employees in the Elizabethton office are always helpful to farmers dealing with the bureaucracy that is the Department of Agriculture.
Keith Hart, the University of Tennessee agricultural extension agent for Carter County, agreed.
“The people in that office go out of their way to help,” Hart said. He said they not only provide the farmers with help in their official capacity, but their years of experience in the office provide valuable information for people looking for help.
“A lot of people just don’t know where to go or who to ask about a problem, like ‘where do you get lime?’,” Hart said. “They know the answers and where to send them.”
“The one thing I can say about what the closing of the office means for Carter County is: not good,” Hart said.