June 14, 2012

Gillibrand Urges Ag Department to Keep Sullivan County FSA Office Open

Closing Liberty FSA Office Would Decrease Access To Agricultural Programs For Hudson Valley Farmers

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to keep open the Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Sullivan County.  Local farmers count on their FSA office for technical and financial advice, direct and guaranteed loans, and emergency response services in the wake of natural disasters. Unfortunately, farmers are unable to take a full day off of work to drive to and from their local FSA office for their services. In addition, Senator Gillibrand is pushing an amendment to the Farm Bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate, that would make it clear that when the USDA is determining office closures, they use the actual driving mileage, not air miles, as they are currently using. 

“Farmers in Sullivan County count on having access to services in Liberty, and closing this office would leave them far from important services,” said Senator Gillibrand, the first Senator from New York in nearly 40 years to serve on the Agriculture Committee. “Farmers can’t just take an entire day off from farming to drive to and from the FSA office. After coping with brutal weather over the past year, the last thing we should do is further complicate their lives by eliminating the closest FSA office.”  

The extreme flooding New York farmers suffered due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wiped out entire farms.  These farms were facing challenging economic times, and in some cases, barely surviving before these catastrophic weather events.  These farms desperately need the expertise and support of USDA services within their communities, such as loans, conservation support, and disaster services, especially during these extraordinarily difficult times.

For Sullivan County farmers, closing the Liberty office would mean traveling at least an additional hour each way to Middletown or Walton.  Closing the local FSA office would undermine two ongoing USDA initiatives, the Sullivan–Wawarsing REAP Zone designation and Rural Development’s recent funding of the Liberty Agriculture Business Park, both of which support and expand the local agriculture sector.   

In her letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “Please strongly consider the needs of New York farmers and halt the closing of this critical FSA office.  This is not the time to abandon communities within Sullivan County while they have been hurt by difficult economic times and catastrophic weather events.” 

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is below:

Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Mr. Secretary, 

I am writing to you today to urge you to not close a critical FSA office in Sullivan County.  Farmers across New York State have suffered from multiple natural disasters in the last year, from winter blizzards to catastrophic late summer flooding, the worst of which you saw when you visited New York State with me in September.  

Currently, the criteria for deciding which office to close is based on a 20 mile limit to the nearest FSA office, measured in air mileage.  Air mileage is an impractical criterion, as farmers will have to travel as much as double the distance if proposed offices were to close, and I recommend that USDA use road mileage instead.  I believe an efficient and economical solution would be to collocate existing USDA offices so that farmers are better able to access their federal and state farm programs in one location. 

The extreme flooding New York farmers suffered due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wiped out entire farms.  These farms were facing challenging economic times and in some cases barely surviving before these catastrophic weather events.  These farms desperately need the expertise and support of USDA within their communities in order to benefit from agricultural programs such as loans, conservation support, and disaster services, especially during these extraordinarily difficult times. 

For Sullivan County farmers, that will mean going to Middletown, NY in Orange County, an additional hour of traveling time for most local farmers, or to Walton, NY in Delaware County, a longer distance, depending on the location of the farms. Agriculture is growing in the county like never before. The closing of the Liberty FSA office contradicts and undermines two ongoing USDA initiatives, the Sullivan–Wawarsing REAP Zone designation and Rural Development’s recent funding of the Liberty Agriculture Business Park, both of which support and expand the agriculture sector of Sullivan County.  Furthermore, closing the Sullivan County office contradicts the USDA Rural Development agency’s goal to develop and construct an Agriculture Business Park. 

The closure of this office would unfortunately result in decreased access to agricultural credit for farmers.  The four disaster declarations and the two emergency declarations that FEMA made in New York State this year disproportionately impacted our farmers.  The support that USDA provides has never been more critical.  I urge you to keep the FSA office open for farmers in Sullivan County. 

Please strongly consider the needs of New York farmers and halt the closing of this critical FSA office.  This is not the time to abandon communities within Sullivan County while they have been hurt by difficult economic times and catastrophic weather events.  I look forward to working together on this priority for New York State.