Resistance stops FSA restructuring in area

By Richard Snowden

A restructuring plan that would have closed several Farm Service Agency facilities throughout Illinois and several other states has been shelved indefinitely because of strong resistance.

Facilities serving DeKalb, Kane, DuPage, Kendall and Boone counties were among those targeted for closure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said John Hawkins, news service director for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“Under the plan, 26 Illinois FSA offices would have been closed,” Hawkins said. “There were about 44 or 45 county FSA offices targeted for restructuring.”

Don Hettel, a spokesman for the DeKalb County FSA office, declined to comment on the matter.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) said federal-level budgetary concerns were the driving force behind the plan.

“The federal government is trying to cut costs due to budget imbalances, so they were looking at efficiency in trying to find out if they could consolidate [FSA] offices,” Pritchard said.

The plan, called FSA Tomorrow, had been intended to improve delivery of services while simultaneously cutting costs. However, stiff opposition to the plan forced officials to reconsider the decision.

“Some folks on Capitol Hill were unenthusiastic about the plan, so they were planning to put language in the appropriations bill that would have restricted us from closing offices,” said Steve Connelly, assistant deputy administrator for farm programs with the FSA in Washington, D.C.

Pritchard said the lack of enthusiasm for the plan stemmed from constituents’ concerns.

“Citizens contacted their elected officials and expressed objections to the consolidation efforts, and those officials passed their concerns on to the Department of Agriculture,” he said. “From there, it was decided not to pursue the matter any further.”

Many farmers expressed concerns about the hassle of driving long distances to conduct business with the FSA.

“There were a lot of complaints about the proposal from farmers throughout the Midwest, who would have had to travel 25 to 50 miles to reach a service center,” Hawkins said. “Had they merged and consolidated these centers, it would have made it harder for many farmers to take care of necessary business.”

There are some issues that need to be addressed before any plan is put into place concerning county FSA offices.

The existing plan is unlikely to be considered for adoption, Connelly said.

“We still have infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, so the FSA is going to enter into discussions with elected officials and others with a stake in the process to find solutions to those issues,” he said. “But the plan has been placed on indefinite hold and I would doubt that it will be resurrected in its current form.”