The Farm Service Agency (FSA) was formed to support farmers in times of need by offering loans, payments, and disaster relief programs. Because the risks that can come with growing food depend on the economy, food preferences and acts of nature, the government felt it was necessary to protect the people and operations that provide food for Americans. The controversies that have arisen in the last few decades regarding the FSA center on the way the assistance has been distributed and the fact that Americans now import much of their foodstuffs.
According to the FSA, their agency provides services to farm operations including loans, commodity price supports, conservation payments, and disaster assistance. The agency aims to assist farmers in adjusting production to meet demand, in order to create a steady price range of agricultural products for both farmers and consumers. It provides credit to agricultural producers who are unable to receive private, commercial credit, as well as distributing grants to those who qualify. The FSA also works with farmers and their debtors to try to arbitrate agreements and head off foreclosure. The Administrator of the Farm Service Agency is Bruce Nelson.
Although it was officially named the Farm Service Agency in 1996, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has roots in several Great Depression programs, including the Resettlement Administration, which was created as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The initial goal was to relocate farming communities to areas where farming was thought to be more profitable, using cooperatives and even providing medical care to poor rural families. This agency was renamed the Farm Security Administration in 1935.
Another early predecessor was the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which was created in 1933 to help stabilize farm prices by offering price support loans to farmers to create crop reduction. Further changes included the institution of commodity marketing controls and aid to farmers to obtain parity pricing and parity income, making the federal government the primary decision maker for American farmers.
The Farmers Home Administration, another FSA predecessor, was created in 1946 as a result of a consolidation between the Farm Security Administration and the Emergency Crop and Feed Loan Division of the Farm Credit Administration. This allowed the government to insure loans to farmers made by other lenders. Later legislation established lending for rural housing, rural business enterprises, and rural water and waste disposal agencies.
After World War II, new priorities were established as overproduction of certain commodities threatened to drop income levels. In 1953, the agency was renamed the Commodity Stabilization Service, which focused on the preservation of farm income by taking land out of production for periods that lasted as long as 10 years. In 1961, the agency was renamed once again to the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service; that lasted until 1994, when it became the Consolidated Farm Service Agency.
In 1996, it was renamed once again to its current title, which has the same acronym as its early predecessor in the Great Depression. The new Farm Service Agency, or FSA, combined the functions of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and the farm credit portion of the Farmers Home Administration.
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers farm commodity loan and purchase programs, farm ownership and operating loans, and the conservation reserve program, in order to maintain a self-sustaining food supply in the United States. It also provides disaster assistance and administrative support to the Commodity Credit Corporation, which funds most of the commodity and export programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Programs in the FSA include:
Commodity Operations (pdf)
FSA programs are handled through more than 2,346 state and county offices located in the 48 continental states. However, in accordance with the USDA’s “Blueprint for Stronger Service” plan, the agency—in 2012—will close 131 of its service center locations in 32 states.
From the Web Site of the Farm Service Agency
Strategic Plan (pdf)
Between 2002 and 2011, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) gave more than $117 billion in direct payments to recipients, according to a query of USAspending.gov. It also gave $1.2 billion in loans and more than $73 million in grants from 2002-2011, and $14.8 billion in other aid from 2000-2010.
The FSA spent $13.1 billion on 22,767 contractor transactions between 2002 and 2011. The top five types of products or services it purchased were agricultural and forestry products ($3,307,576,767), bakery and cereal products ($2,791,772,212), dairy foods and eggs, ($2,314,173,804), food oils and fats ($2,089,265,181), and fruits and vegetables ($906,948,098).
The top four contractors employed by FSA during this period were:
1. Archer Daniels Midland Company $1,901,639,176
2. Cal Western Packaging Corp. $952,274,272
3. Cargill Incorporated $757,386,610
4. Bunge Limited $737,697,340
Although subsidies are received by farmers who qualify in the United States, data from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has found that only 19 congressional districts (of 435) accounted for half of the federal crop subsidies paid between 2003 and 2005. During this same time period, two-thirds of farmers collected no farm bill subsidies at all. The top 2% of beneficiaries received 27% of all farm subsidies. The top 6% received 52%, and the top 15% received 75% of total subsidies. The bottom 80% of beneficiaries shared 16% of the benefits of crop subsidies.
Farm Bill 2007 - Map (Environmental Working Group)
Farm Bill 2007 - Farm Subsidy Database (Environmental Working Group)
Farm Bill 2007 - Crop Subsidy Program Beneficiaries (Environmental Working Group)
Helping Tobacco Farmers
The Tobacco Transition Payment Program, also known as the “tobacco buy-out,” helps tobacco quota holders and producers transition to the free market. Under this program, the federal government makes payments to tobacco farmers in order to allow them the time and resources to grow other crops. The Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-357), signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 22, 2004, ended this Depression-era tobacco quota program. The program provided the annual transitional payments for 10 years to eligible tobacco quota holders and producers. Payments began in 2005 and will continue until 2014. Payments are funded through assessments of approximately $10 billion on tobacco product manufacturers and importers.
In the second term of the Bush administration, budget cutbacks resulted in the closing of FSA offices across the United States. In September 2005, the agency proposed the closures of 30% of its offices and planned to eventually close 713 of the 2,351 offices nationwide, according to a summary the department provided to the Senate Agriculture Committee. In 2012—in accordance with the USDA’s “Blueprint for Stronger Service” plan—the FSA announced its plan to close 131 of its current 2,346 service center locations in 32 states. Many farmers have protested these cuts, as local FSA offices have been a crucial connection between farmers and the department since the 1930s.
Farm Service Agency Transforming (by Layton Ehmke, Homer Tribune)
Plan: 10, not 12 FSA offices likely to close (by Art Hovey, Lincoln Journal Star)
Large sums of money are given annually through price supports for certain crops or farmers. Such subsidies artificially keep American produce prices low on foreign markets, harming struggling foreign farmers. Half of the subsidies available go to the top 6% of farmers, and half of this money flows to the top 10 districts for farming. “I hope that reform momentum can continue to build until we have a more fiscally responsible safety net for all farmers rather than subsidies for a select few," Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) said after the Senate approved its farm bill. “The bill further increases price supports and continues to send farm subsidies to people who are among the wealthiest 2% of Americans,” said Chuck Connor, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Betting the Family Farm (by Sam Hurst, Gourmet)
Meat vs. Vegetables
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asks, “Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?” The answer lies in the recent Farm Bill passed by the Senate that allocates nearly three-quarters of all subsidies to the meat and dairy industry. Over-emphasizing meat production is neither good for the environment nor the health of people, some argue.
Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac? (PCRM report)
Government says it made $2.8 billion wrong farm payments (by Libby Quaid, AG Weekly)
Modernizing the FSA
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) unveiled several reforms in 2011 and 2012 designed to make farmers’ lives easier and less complicated when it comes to dealing with the U.S. government.
In November 2011, the FSA proposed changes that would reduce the time it takes farmers and ranchers to receive a disaster designation from Washington following natural disasters. The reforms would mean receiving loans and other assistance in less time.
Another change from FSA allowed farmers and ranchers to apply to its Conservation Reserve Program with a single visit to an agency office.
In 2012, the FSA produced an online guide designed to help farmers and ranchers figure their way through the Farm Loan Program. The guide explains what types of loans are available, terms for loan servicing and other resources for starting, expanding, or owning a farm or ranch.
Agriculture Secretary Previews New Reforms (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)
Newly Released Publication Guides Farmers, Ranchers Through FSA Loan Process (by Tanya Brown, Fence Post)
MIDAS Project Kickoff Held (Farm Services Agency)
Val Dolcini, 2011 (Acting Administrator)
Jonathan Coppess, 2009-2011
Jonathan Coppess has been around farming and the agriculture industry his entire life, having come from a long line of farmers and worked on ag issues in Congress until recently. Hailing from seven generations of farmers, he grew up on his family’s corn and soybean farm in Darke County, Ohio, before attending the state’s Miami University. After earning his bachelor’s in business, he went to work for Archer Daniels Midland in the late 1990s as a grain merchandiser. Coppess was responsible for commodity purchasing, processed-product sales, and related hedging activities utilizing the Chicago Board of Trade. He then went back to school to get his law degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He passed the bar in Illinois and went to work for Freeborn & Peters LLP in Chicago as a litigator from 2001-2005. In early 2004, he took time off to work for the presidential campaign of John Edwards.
Having decided to pursue a career in agricultural policy, Coppess moved back to Washington D.C. in February 2006 to work for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) as a legislative assistant handling agriculture, energy and environment issues. He advised Nelson, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, on agricultural issues and worked extensively on the 2008 Farm Bill legislation. Coppess also helped formulate policy on biofuels, rural development, energy, environmental, and trade issues.
In May 2009, he joined the FSA as the deputy administrator for farm programs, before being selected in July by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to take over the leadership of the agency.
Coppess and his wife, Susan, have one daughter.
Jonathan Coppess Biography (USDA) (pdf)
Doug Caruso, April-July 2009
Caruso was only in office less than three months before he abruptly resigned from the Administrator position of the FSA saying that the job was not what he expected. According to a report by the Indiana Prairie Farmer, Caruso said: “While I believe USDA leaders and I share the same goals, we clearly have divergent views on how to accomplish those goals… Good people with the same goals and objectives can and will differ on tactics. Those differences made me a bad fit for the position and, given that reality, the most constructive thing I could do was step aside to make way for USDA leaders to appoint someone more in synch with their vision.”
Caruso had previously headed the Wisconsin FSA on the appointment of the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001. Prior to that, he worked as a state director for U.S. Senator Herb Kohl's office and was also the general manager of the former Farmers Union Milk Marketing Cooperative. In 2003, he was hired as the CEO of Wisconsin Farmers Union Specialty Cheese, a dairy foods manufacturing firm based in Montfort, a position he left to take the Administrator job. Following his resignation, Caruso returned to Wisconsin to lead the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
Doug Caruso to lead Wisconsin Farmers Union (by Bob Meyer, Brownfield Ag News)
Farm Service Agency has New Boss after Dairyman's Exit (by Jerry Hagstrom, CongressDaily)
Caruso Steps Down As National FSA Administrator (Wisconsin Ag Connection)
Teresa Lasseter, 2005-2009
Teresa Lasseter grew up on a farm in Tifton, Georgia. She graduated from Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College with a degree in business administration. Lasseter worked for the Georgia Department of transportation directly after graduating college and before taking a part-time summer job in the FSA county office in 1977. She held a variety of positions while traveling the state and familiarizing herself with farm programs on the local level and entered the agency's management training program before stepping back in 1993 due to family concerns. A political appointment from then-Gov. Zell Miller kept her closer to home. She was executive director of the Georgia Agrirama Development Authority in Tifton, remaining there until 1999. During this time back at home she also chaired the Chamber of Commerce in Tifton. U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss led the effort to secure Lasseter's nomination by the Bush administration to the position of FSA executive director for Georgia. One year later she was appointed the Associate Administrator for Programs (in the FSA) and asked to move to Washington D.C., where she worked from 2003 to 2004. Most recently, Lasseter served six years as the Executive Director of Tifton, Georgia's Agrirama Development Authority. The 30-year-old Agrirama is an educational living history center dedicated to bringing rural life of turn-of-the-century Georgia to life. She was appointed chief of the FSA by agriculture secretary Mike Johanns in October 2005. She is the first administrator to have worked her way up through the organization's ranks. She is also the first female administrator. Lasseter also serves as the executive vice president of the Commodity Credit Corporation, a wholly owned government corporation with a $30 billion line of credit with the United States Department of Treasury.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA), which provides services to farm operations such as loans, commodity price supports, conservation payments, and disaster assistance, is led by a third generation Montana farmer. Bruce Nelson was selected to serve as FSA’s Acting Administrator in May 2011 and its Administrator two months later.