By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
FULTON – In two weeks, the agency that’s been helping generations of Itawamba County farmers will shutter its doors for good.
The Farm Service Agency’s office’s two remaining employees, each of whom has been working there for more than 25 years, will either retire early or move on to other FSA offices.
Neither has decided what to do at this point. Frankly, neither option sounds good to them.
“This has been the most agonizing decision I have ever had to make in my life,” said Itawamba County FSA head Johnny Guntharp, who started working at the office in 1987. He was just a kid back then, still in his 20s. Now, more than two decades later, he just might be changing jobs.
It’s an unappealing prospect.
“Change is the hardest thing in life to accept, especially as you grow older,” he said. “I can say that I am privileged and honored to have served Itawamba County farmers for 25 years and USDA for 28 years.
“Itawamba County is home to me, and the farmers have always treated me as one of them. You never know how much you miss someone until they are gone.”
Beam, who began working at the local FSA office a year before Guntharp, mirrored the sentiment.
“It’s been rough,” she said. “There are a lot of emotions in this office right now. … I’ll find myself bawling if I sit here thinking about it.”
There will be an informal open house of sorts on Sept. 7, a kind of “come-and-go” affair for Itawamba County’s farmers and landowners to say farewell to their FSA. Likely, it will be a painful experience for most involved. For the two FSA employees, Itawamba’s farmers are like family.
“We have been privileged to have worked with the ‘cream of the crop’ as far as farmers here in Itawamba County,” Beam said of the 2,000-odd farmers served by the office.
Because FSA employees are tasked with aiding farmers via various federal programs, they see producers at both their best and worst. Beam said this creates a kind of bond among them.
“Our farmers have become our families,” she said. “We have literally helped two and three generations of families in their farm program needs and landowners in our various other programs administered through our office, too. We’ve been through all phases of life with our farmers, and we’ve shared our love with them as well.”
Despite the frustrations with losing his job, Guntharp said the brunt of the damage is being done to Itawamba County’s farmers, who no longer have a local FSA office or agent to cater to their needs. Some farmers, he said, are in the office multiple times each week and likely won’t travel to Tupelo so frequently.