Enquirer Herald

40 farmers lobby to keep Farm Service Agency office in York

John Harshaw farms row after row of crops such as corn, beans, hay and wheat along the York-Chester county line.

When he gets off the tractor and heads to town for supplies, his destination is usually York. When in York, he will stop by the Farm Service Agency office to fill out required forms about planting, grazing, crop intentions and loss.

"Most of it is done manually, the law changes so much," Harshaw said.

Fill out the wrong form, with the wrong data, he said, and "you miss out."

That's why Harshaw and about 40 other York County farmers lobbied Monday to keep the York County Farm Service Agency office open. It is convenient, has a knowledgeable staff and likely serves more people than the Chester office where the York office may move, they said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed consolidating the York County office with the one in Chester, which serves Chester and Fairfield counties. It is one of 131 Farm Service offices nationwide the USDA has proposed for consolidation.

The York County office meets the USDA criteria for consolidation - it has only has two employees and is close to the Chester office. USDA guidelines said offices within 20 miles could be consolidated. Farmers said the two offices are actually about 27 miles apart.

"It's a shame we can't leave everything the way it is," said western York County cattle farmer Richard "Dickie" Harper, chairman of the county's FSA committee.

The farmers' concerns were heard by Laurie Lawson, state executive director for the South Carolina Farm Service Agency.

"I bring news not with a glad heart," he said.

Lawson stressed that the opinions of York County farmers, as well as those in Allendale County and Edgefield County, where FSA offices also are targeted for closing, will be sent to USDA. The decision will be made by the USDA, not South Carolina officials.

Jeff Wilson, a member of the Chester-Fairfield FSA committee, said there should be public meetings in those two counties because farmers there will be affected too.

The USDA only asked the South Carolina FSA to hold meetings for farmers in York, Allendale and Edgefield counties, Lawson said.