By Robert Neel, Reporter
Gregory Diephouse, deputy administrator for Field Operations, and other Farm Service Agency (FSA) officials from Washington, D.C. and other states were scheduled to be in Houston County on Aug. 12 to meet with local FSA personnel and community-based organization leaders.
This meeting was to kick off the Bridges to Opportunity Program for which Houston County is one of 10 counties in five states selected as a pilot community. The meeting was postponed and is tentatively rescheduled for October.
As some FSA offices are being closed, government officials are looking for ways to better serve the local communities.
Darvin Collins, county executive director for the FSA Houston County Office, and four program technicians, are servicing Leon and Madison Counties since their FSA offices have closed.
One of their ongoing programs is the Livestock Forage Program (LFP). LFP provides compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses due to drought or fire on land that is native or improved pastureland with permanent vegetative cover or that is planted specifically for grazing. Sign up began in April..
Collins said his office has processed 300 requests for assistance and working on 200 more.
The brother and sister team of Robert and Barbara Wooten are owners/operators of the Wooten Family Bar-A-Ranch in Lovelady. The Wooten team is the 2010 recipients of the Landowners Association of Texas Farmer of the Year award.
Barbara Wooten speaks with enthusiasm about the programs offered by FSA. "Training and loans offered by FSA are great benefits to small farmers and new producers," Wooten said.
The Bridges to Opportunities Program is being launched to modernize FSA County offices. The pilot program will be evaluating ways for the agency to improve.
One initiative is to have the local FSA office act as a referral for services offered to farm and ranch producers by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal and state agencies.
Pilot areas are selected with the intention to target five customer segments:
• Historically Under-Served;
• New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers;
• Local/Regional Producers;
• Veterans; and
• Commodity Producers.
Various leaders of community-based organizations representing landowners, farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to share their needs and concerns with FSA officials.
Collins is pleased that Houston County has been selected as a pilot community for the Bridges to Opportunities Program.
"FSA Officials are interested in coming to see the success stories here in Houston County," Collins said.
He attributes this selection to the relationship that has developed between the FSA and local landowners, farmers and ranchers.