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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 12, 2012

Feds to shut local FSA

ALBANY COUNTY — Having been saved by federal legislation five years ago, the county’s Farm Service Agency office is again slated for closure.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced on Monday that it will close 131 FSA offices across the country — it will still maintain more than 2,100.  The Albany County office, located on Martin Road near Voorheesville’s high school, will merge with the Schoharie office, which is 18 miles away, said USDA spokesman Matt Herrick.

Closing FSA offices is part of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s plan to comply with the president’s “Campaign to Cut Waste.” The plan also closes rural development offices, Food Safety and Inspection Service offices, and soil survey offices as well as consolidating cell phone plans and standardizing training.  The USDA expects that it will save $150 million annually, with $60 million saved by closing offices, laboratories, and other facilities, Herrick said.

Within the next 30 days, the USDA will hold public hearings on closing the FSA offices — Tom Della Rocco, executive director of Albany’s office, expects that it will be on Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. at the Martin Road office.  After the public’s input has been evaluated, Herrick said, Vilsack will make a determination on the closures within 60 days.  Offices will likely close by the beginning of July, he said.

The Albany office has been open since 1972 and Della Rocco has been in charge of it for 29 years, he said.  Nearly 500 farms function in Albany County, he said, explaining that there’s significant diversity in the types of farms — there are orchards, greenhouses, dairy farms, and operations like Pauline Williman’s vegetable farm to supply the Northeast Regional Food Bank.

Programs to support dairy farmers, for disaster relief, and for conservation are some of the most used, Della Rocco said, as well as loans for farmers.  His office also gathers information for the USDA, including reports from farmers detailing what they have planted and where.

“As a matter of fact, I was there this week,” said Jim Abbruzzese of getting help for flood damage.  Abbruzzese has chaired the county’s FSA committee and his family owns Altamont Orchards.  “The office and Tom’s expertise in the office is invaluable,” he said.

Abbruzzese pointed out that in Albany, “we’re the capital county.”  While it might not be an intensely agricultural area, it is “important to have that presence in Albany County.”

He concluded that, over the years, the disaster programs from the FSA “have kept me in business.”

By Saranac Hale Spencer

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