By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- With automatic spending cuts looming under sequestration, USDA Farm Service Agency programs face an uncertain future, Oregon FSA Executive Director Lynn Voigt says.
Voigt said he is concerned about the agency's ability to administer mandatory loan programs.
"If sequestration comes, it would leave the dollars there for the loan programs," Voigt said, "but it would take cuts in the salary and expense portions of our budget.
"It would leave fewer people, fewer hours, fewer resources to be able to administer the same amount of dollars," Voigt said.
Sequestration is the term used for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that will kick in March 1 unless Congress takes action.
Voigt said it is a difficult time for USDA administrators who are operating under the cloud of sequestration, a continuing resolution that is set to expire April 1 and a farm bill that will expire at the end of this year.
"We try to plan for things with a certain degree of certainty," Voigt said, "and with the looming possibility of sequestration, the uncertainty of knowing within 30 days after the proposed sequestration what is going to happen with the continuing resolutions, it just brings a lot of uncertainty.
"We have done everything we can to minimize our expenses as much as we can in the hope that if we are hit with massive cuts later in the year, we will have done enough in advance that it will minimize the effects," Voigt said.
"We depend on our human capital -- our employees -- to provide services to the agricultural public we serve," Voigt said. "So anything we can do to help minimize the effects on our offices, our employees, it will preserve our opportunity to serve the public."
Voigt said the Oregon FSA office is down three full-time positions from where it would like to be.
"That doesn't sound like a lot, especially when you look at us having 108 employees in the state of Oregon," Voigt said. "But, to show how that manifests itself, I would have never thought I would see the situation in the state of Oregon where we would have some of our county offices staffed with just one person. But we have that now.
"It is very difficult for one person to understand all programs and do everything that is necessary in all programs to serve the public," Voigt said.
Asked what he would like from the federal level, Voigt said: "Predictability. And the way you are going to get predictability is having a five-year farm bill in place."