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 Yates 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. Yates County’s Mennonite farmers would be especially disenfranchised if the FSA office was closed because they would not have the resources to access FSA aid by any other means.
“Farmers in Yates County count on having access to services at their local FSA office, and closing this office would leave them an additional hour from 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 a 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.”
This year, the extreme freezes and late summer flooding in New York destroyed many of the crops. 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 Yates County farmers, closing of the local FSA office would negatively impact Yates agriculture industry, one of the most prominent in New York State. While New York as a whole as seen a decline in the dairy industry, Yates County has seen consistent growth. Yates County’s vineyards are also notable. Yates’ 32 wineries account for over 5,000 acres of grapes, which is more than any other county east of California. If the Yates County FSA office is closed, it will result in a decline in Yates’ profitable agriculture industry.
In her letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “Please strongly consider the needs of New York farmers and halt the closings of this critical USDA office. This is not the time to abandon these farmers 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.”
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 Yates County. Farmers across New York State have suffered from multiple natural disasters in the last year, from spring freezes to catastrophic late summer flooding, the worst of which you saw when you visited New York State with me in September.
This winter, Upstate New York farm communities experienced record high temperatures, resulting in the early blossoming of our fruit trees. Unfortunately, these high temperatures were following by severe freezes, destroying much of the potential for these trees and vines to bear fruit. 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.
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.
Agriculture is the number one industry in Yates County and while the rest of New York State has seen a decline in the dairy industry, Yates has seen consistent growth. Today more than 32 wineries are based in Yates County and is home to more acres of grapes (5,000) than any other county East of California. The farming community in the County includes a large Mennonite population that would find it difficult to travel and they do not have the resources to access FSA services by other means. The closure of this office would unfortunately result in decreased access to agricultural credit for farmers. The loan support that USDA provides has never been more critical. I urge you to keep these offices open for farmers in Yates County.
Please strongly consider the needs of New York farmers and halt the closings of this critical USDA office. This is not the time to abandon these farmers 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.