Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that he intends to appoint voting members from socially disadvantaged (SDA) communities to serve on county committees in county jurisdictions that lack fair SDA representation. USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), which works collaboratively with county committees, published an interim rule today in the Federal Register that is open for public comment for 60 days.
County committees have served as a direct link between the farm community and USDA for more than 75 years, helping to deliver FSA farm programs at the local level. Eligible farmers serving on committees provide feedback to USDA on the types of FSA agricultural programs that best serve the needs of local producers.
"As we continue to build a USDA that is responsive to the needs of an evolving, 21st century agricultural economy, we must ensure a strong and sustainable future for these important committees," said Vilsack. "Appointing new voting members to committees that lack representation will help ensure that county committees continue to play a vital and relevant role in delivering important federal farm programs to citizens of rural communities across our nation."
County committees were formed in the 1930s to oversee federal farm programs, a tool for grassroots engagement whereby locally elected committees give farmers effective self-government authority. That authority continues today, making farmers primary stewards of farm programs passed by Congress, including administration and outreach to all farmers and ranchers in their area.
Secretarial appointments would add SDA voting members to county jurisdictional areas where representation is lacking, according to a statistical review conducted by USDA. The appointments will supplement the existing election process where currently there are 7,700 elected county committee members representing 2,244 county jurisdictions.
"We are proud of the great diversity that makes up our rural communities," said FSA Administrator Bruce Nelson, "and appointing voting members to committees that lack representation is an important step in helping to maintain a robust county committee system for all producers."
Authority to appoint voting SDA members was granted in the 2002 Farm Bill passed by Congress. The interim rule allows the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure fair representation on county committees by appointing a voting member in areas identified under-representing the diversity of area producers. Each year, USDA will conduct a fresh statistical analysis, and appointments with voting authority will continue to occur in areas identified under-representing the diversity of area producers.
A copy of this interim rule is on display in today's Federal Register. To submit comments, use any of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
Mail: Barbara Boyd, Field Operations Program Manager, FSA, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Mail Stop 0542, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-0542.
Hand Delivery or Courier: Deliver comments to the above address.
Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is ushering in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. In May 2011, USDA released its Civil Rights Assessment, which includes support for appointing voting SDA members.
The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. For example, in response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. In the past 3 years, USDA provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6 billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
For more information about FSA County Committee elections, visit the FSA website at www.fsa.usda.gov.