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BrownfieldAgNews reports:

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says no closings of Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices are planned for this year. But he says some realignment of the system will likely take place starting in 2015.

"We need to modernize our system and there are a couple of reasons for that," Vilsack says. "Number one, we have 20 percent fewer workers than we did several years ago. The budget that I'm working with at USDA is now one billion dollars less than it was when I became secretary in terms of the operating budget, so with a 20 percent reduction in workforce, you obviously have to realign where folks work and what they do."

As of today, 30 Farm Service Agency offices nationwide do not have an employee assigned to work there and over a hundred other F-S-A offices have just one full-time employee.

"So what we are suggesting is, over time, fewer offices but better offices," Vilsack says. "We're doing right now a work study to try to determine exactly where the work is being done, to make sure that we have adequate people doing the work that needs to be done, and then in 2015 we will probably suggest a realignment of some of the offices and a strengthening of those offices with additional investments."

The realignment could create a three-tiered system, with central offices where supervisors are stationed, branch offices with more employees and satellite offices were farmers could set up appointments for face-to-face meetings with Farm Service Agency staff. And Vilsack says with future upgrades to the agency's computer systems, farmers may be able to access their records electronically.

"If they have access to broadband, they'll be able to access their records from home," Vilsack says. "That will change the relationship they have with FSA offices."

There are more than 23-hundred Farm Service Agency offices around the country and those offices serve as the primary distribution point for all federal farm programs.

Vilsack made his comments on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program.

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