USDA proposes to close two local offices

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Two of the region’s United States Department of Agriculture offices are on the chopping block as part of the agency’s new $150 million cost-cutting plan.
Farm Service Agency offices in Ashland and Fulton are included in the 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs set to close across the country. The timeline is to close the offices within 90 days.
The FSA handles, among other things, financial assistance after natural disasters for farmers.
The proposal calls for consolidating Ashland’s operations into the Marshall County office and the Fulton operations into the Lee County office.
In an emailed statement to FSA employees, Mike Sullivan, FSA’s state executive director, emphasized that the closures are proposed.
“Before any proposed consolidation can become final, public hearings must be held and other steps taken,” the email said.
Fulton has set its public hearing for 3 p.m. on Jan. 24. The meeting will be at the Woodmen of the World building at the Peppertown exit off Highway 78.
The Itawamba County Farm Service Agency office said it services about 2,000 clients. Itawamba County has more than 3,000 farms, according to the office.
The Ashland office said it would release information about its public hearing later this week.
The USDA, in a news release Monday, said reasons for the closures include a small staff of one or two people or the offices being within 20 miles of other USDA offices.
“In other cases, technology improvements, advanced service centers and broadband service have reduced some need for brick and mortar facilities,” the statement said.
In a different email forwarded to the Daily Journal, Sullivan said employee decisions will be made separately.
“Let me be clear that no employees will be asked to leave the agency as a result of these consolidations,” he wrote. “Needless to say, this is a painful business. While we might prefer to have all county offices open and fully staffed, we must deal with our current reality. I am sure proposed consolidation of offices cannot be a surprise to FSA employees in county offices that are already short-handed and without funds for basic supplies. Nevertheless, the consolidations, if they occur as proposed, will be disruptive.”
Adam Armour contributed to this story.
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com