The Texas Farm Service Agency (FSA), along with FSA operations in every other state in the nation, is working with significantly less money as it finishes out fiscal year 2011. And the agency, which oversees USDA farm program payments, expects another round of cuts in 2012.
Texas FY 2011 budget is about $ 2.3 million less than was expended in 2010, said Texas FSA state director Juan Garcia who is currently serving as national acting deputy administrator for farm programs.
“We’ve had to operate for most of the year at or below FY 2010 spending levels, “not knowing what the final cuts would be,” while congress passed continuing resolutions,” Garcia said. “When the Agency got final numbers April 15, we found our budget was significantly reduced. States were notified of those final numbers about two weeks ago.” Garcia said the agency has “spent conservatively all year but we don’t have much time left in the fiscal year to make the required reductions.”
Consequently, Texas and other states have had to make deep cuts to discretionary spending in the 11thhour of the fiscal year. “We had to cut out temporary employees,” Garcia said. “We need temporary workers to help get payments out.”
He said travel has also been reduced to only “mission critical” trips, such as assessing wildfire damage in the Southwest and flood damage along the Mississippi River. “We have to travel, in order to complete required preliminary investigation of the damage sustained,” he said, “and evaluate the amount of money needed to repair the damage.”
Garcia said employees can’t do their work without traveling, “they have to do it (travel), in order to maintain the integrity of our programs.
“We’ve also cut down on county office newsletters to reduce postage and paper costs. We will use other means to communicate with farmers about program deadlines. Fortunately, we had already published most program deadlines before the budget crunch.”
He reminded farmers that the SURE deadline, for instance, is July 29, 2011.
“We will work with newspapers and other means to deliver information,” Garcia said. “We also encourage producers to look at our website to check for deadline dates. But we also realize that not all farmers have internet access. So we may need them to check in with the office.”
He said discretionary spending is the main area of reduction. “We will continue to furnish enough supplies for offices to do their most critical work, however. We’re not asking producers to bring in their own paper or to come pick us up to complete required field visits.”
County Committee meetings also will be limited to what’s necessary. And some of those may be changed to conference calls. “The county committee members are employees and do get paid salary and travel costs when they meet,” Garcia said. “They still have to come into the county office for some programs.”
He said the county committee has the option to delegate authority to the county director. “We’re not trying to take authority away from committees,” he said. But the agency is looking for any possible ways to improve efficiency.
Garcia said operations will be affected by the cuts. “Reductions will slow down the application process and the issuance of payments,” he said. “In the meantime, we are trying to come up with ways to address issues and do things more efficiently and make the process easier.”
He expects another round of cuts in the 2012 budget and says the agency will continue to work with producers to streamline the application process. “We will work closely with farmers on the proper documentation they need to bring in so they don’t have to make extra trips.”
The reductions come at an inopportune time for Texas farmers and farmers in other parts of the country who have suffered from drought, floods, wildfires and devastating storms.
‘It’s not just Texas,” he said. “It’s the whole nation. USDA tried to treat all states equally and fairly with budget reductions. And we’re all trying to come up with new ways to do things more efficiently and more cost effective.
“We pride ourselves on customer service,” Garcia said. But he said the agency will face a significant challenge to manage farm programs. “These programs are needed,” he said. “And we may need more patience from farmers as we make certain the payments are correct.”