WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) celebrated the Senate passage of her bipartisan amendment to improve staffing at local USDA offices, which are often the first point of contact for farmers looking to make use of federal services.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices are critically under-staffed and too often unable to meet the needs of farmers. This bipartisan amendment, which is co-led by Senator Pete Ricketts (R-NE), and cosponsored by Senator John Fetterman (D-PA), Senator Katie Britt (R-AL), and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would help improve staffing at these local offices and improve customer service, particularly in rural areas.
“FSA and NRCS offices are critical resources for farmers in Minnesota and across the country,” said Senator Smith. “These offices are often the first point of contact for farmers looking for capital to expand their operations or purchase equipment. Unfortunately, these offices have been severely understaffed, which hurts their ability to provide important services. This amendment would help develop a plan to improve staffing and provide recommendations to Congress so that we can address this issue. I’m glad to see it pass the Senate and will continue working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get it signed into law.”
“The staff in county offices provide critical support to family farmers who are navigating federal programs,” said Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President Gary Wertish. “Unfortunately, staffing is an ongoing challenge which has consequences for farmers who are trying to utilize farm safety net programs including operating loans or disaster assistance. We’re grateful to see Sen. Smith focusing on this important issue.”
Historically there has been an FSA office in every county, but this has been difficult to maintain due to recruitment, retention, and retirement of employees. The Smith-Rickets amendment requires the submission of a report on improving staffing at the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Services at the county level elevates the conversation on staffing shortages and asks USDA to think creatively about ways to address these shortages at the county level. The amendment was adopted by the Senate yesterday as part of the annual Agriculture funding bill.
The amendment is supported by the National Farmers Union, the Minnesota Farmers Union, American Federation of Government Employees, the National Young Farmers, the Land Stewardship Project, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.