Farm Service Agency Administrator Teresa Lasseter said streamlining the agency will continue under the Obama administration, with fewer offices available to serve ranchers and farmers across the country.
“Given the budget situation today, along with the changes and complexity of farm programs and needs for the future, we no longer have the luxury of having an FSA office in every county,” Lasseter said during the recent Texas Commodity Symposium, held annually in conjunction with the Amarillo Farm Show.
Lasseter said Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Nebraska and Kentucky had taken the “lead in streamlining FSA. There is more to be done across the country.”
“We're trying to be as fair as possible,” said Texas FSA Director John Fuston. “We are trying to provide better, more efficient service.”
Needed upgrades are also in the works, Lasseter said. Some $173 million has been appropriated to update FSA computer systems. She said technology was decades behind what's required to implement modern farm programs.
She said the agency was working to clarify and revise regulations included in the farm program enacted last year. “It takes time.”
Basic changes in payment programs, including payment limits and a new alternative payment program in the new farm bill will require more than usual scrutiny, she said.
Lasseter said agriculture has enjoyed several years of strong economic performance and less reliance on government payments. “In 2005, farmers received 20 percent of their income from government payments. In 2007, that percentage was only 12 percent.”
Fuston said despite some tough economic times the Texas agricultural economy “remains strong overall. We had tough situations in Texas last year, a mixed bag with some areas faring well and others with real problems.”
Fuston said the state suffered more than $1 billion in crop losses in 2009, $60 million in livestock losses.
He said anticipated cotton production at 5.1 million bales is 38 percent lower than in 2007. Average yield at 731 pounds per acre is off from 833 pounds in 2007. Corn production at 271 million bushels is 8 percent lower than the year before and the 129 bushel per acre average yield was off 19 bushels from the previous year.
Peanut production was up 19 percent to 825 million pounds. “But some areas had significant problems.”
Fuston said grain sorghum production at 161 million bushels was unchanged from 2007, but yield average at 52 bushels per acre was off 14 bushels from the year before. Wheat, at 30 bushels per acre was down seven bushels from 2007 and the 3.5 million acres harvested was down 8 percent from 2007.
Fuston said for much of the year markets made up some slack from lower production. He said FSA's loan service also showed significant improvement over the past few years.
“In 2001 we had a delinquency rate of 33 percent. That was unacceptable,” he said, “Now, that rate is 7.5 percent. We're proud of that. We have made good loans.”
Both Lasseter and Fuston will be leaving when the new administration assumes office in mid-January. Both expect a smooth transition.
“It's been a wonderful ride,” Fuston said.