With seven USDA offices across New York State facing closure, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York's first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, is urging U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to keep all of New York's USDA offices open and available to New York State's agriculture communities.
"New York's farmland saw the worst of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee this summer -- one right after the other," Senator Gillibrand said. "Rebuilding our farms cannot and will not be done without the support provided by local USDA offices -- whether it's help securing emergency funding or technical assistance, removing debris and other help getting the resources our farms need. For our state's economy to grow and thrive, and to keep the food we grow safe and healthy, we need access to our local USDA offices."
New York USDA offices proposed to be closed:
Farm Service Agency (FSA)
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Senator Gillibrand's full letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack:
Dear Mr. Secretary,
I am writing to you today to urge you to stop closing seven critical USDA offices in New York State. New York farmers have suffered from multiple natural disasters in the last year, from winter blizzards to catastrophic late summer flooding, the worst of which you saw when you visited Schoharie County with me in September.
The extreme flooding New York farmers suffered due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wiped out entire farms. These disasters came in the wake of 13 other USDA declared disasters in 2011. 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.
The seven USDA offices that are scheduled to close would include four Farm Services Agency offices and would unfortunately result in decreased access to agricultural credit for farmers. The four disaster declarations and the two emergency declarations that FEMA made in New York State this year disproportionately impacted our farmers. The loan support that USDA provides has never been more critical. I urge you to keep these offices open for farmers in Saratoga, Albany, Sullivan and Yates counties.
Additionally, the damage caused by severe winter storms, blizzards, heavy rains, extreme flooding, tornadoes, and straight-line winds has caused destruction to farmlands and buildings, all of which means farms need help to repair and prepare for next year's crop. The NRCS office that is scheduled to close in Binghamton will mean that Broome County farmers will no longer have access to these environmental stewardship and reconstruction services within their own community.
Currently, the factors taken into account to decide which offices to close are based on the number of employees per office and air mileage. I would recommend that USDA instead should consider the number of active contracts per office in order to identify the work volume as well as take into account the current temporary hiring freeze on these offices. Also, 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.
Please strongly consider the plight of New York farmers and halt the closings of these critical USDA offices. This is not the time to abandon these communities 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.