Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that elections for USDA Farm Service Agency county committees have begun and will run through Dec. 5. Ballots were mailed to eligible producers on Nov. 4.

“County committees help administer federal farm programs at the local level, and it is vital that committees represent a cross-section of producers in each community,” said Johanns. “I encourage all eligible producers, especially minorities and women, to make a difference in their community by voting in this year's FSA county committee elections.”

Johanns made the announcement in Springfield, Mo., at the Missouri Farm Bill Forum, the 22nd and final forum that will be hosted by him as part of the nationwide listening tour in which members of the public are invited to express their views about farm and rural policy, in preparation for the development of the next farm bill in 2007. Other USDA officials will continue to hold forums throughout November.

FSA county committees help ensure FSA agricultural programs serve the needs of local producers. Committees provide input on commodity price support loans and payments, conservation programs and disaster assistance. FSA committees operate within official regulations designed to carry out federal laws. Most committees consist of three to five members and may have one or more appointed advisors to further represent the interests of minority and women farmers and ranchers.

Agricultural producers, who participate or cooperate in any FSA program and are of legal voting age, can vote. A person supervising and conducting the farming operations on an entire farm, but not of legal voting age, can also vote.

Ballots are being sent to eligible farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers. Eligible producers should contact their local FSA offices if they do not receive a ballot. All ballots must be returned to the voter’s FSA office or be post-marked by Dec. 5.

The candidate receiving the most votes serves a three-year term as the elected county committee member. The person receiving the second most votes serves a three-year term as the first alternate. The candidate receiving the third most votes serves as second alternate for three years.

Approximately one-third of the nearly 8,000 committee seats nationwide are up for election annually. Newly elected committee members and alternates take office Jan. 1, 2006.

Producers can learn more about FSA county committees by contacting a local FSA office or online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/.