Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced that elections for local USDA Farm Service Agency County Committees have begun.

“FSA County Committee members make decisions on how federal farm programs fit the needs of local producers,” said Veneman. “We hope that all eligible voters participate in these election to ensure that these committees represent the interests of all producers in a community.”

Voting ballots have been mailed to eligible voters. Eligible voters who have not received ballots can acquire them from their administering FSA offices. Eligible voters must participate or cooperate in FSA programs. A county or multi-county area served by the County Committee is divided into local administrative areas. One member on the County Committee represents each LAA. A person may vote in only one LAA in each county or area.

Ballots must be returned to FSA offices or postmarked by Dec. 6, 2004. All ballots will be counted publicly by Dec. 20, 2004. Nominees may challenge elections within 15 days after the results of an election are posted, if they desire. Newly elected Committee members and alternates take office Jan. 1, 2005.

In August, new guidelines were issued to ensure that County Committees fairly represent agricultural producers, especially minorities and women in the areas. Some 300 county committee areas were identified as having significant numbers of minority farmers and ranchers. A special outreach campaign was conducted to ensure minority and women were nominated in those areas. As a result, 97 percent of these targeted county committee areas have minority or women nominees on the ballot.

FSA County Committees make decisions on commodity price-support loans; payment eligibility; establishment of allotments and yields; conservation programs; incentive, indemnity and disaster payments for some commodities; and other farm disaster assistance. The FSA County Committee system, established in the 1930s, gives local farmers and ranchers a much-needed say in how farm programs are administered at the grass-roots level.

Each year, about one-third of the nearly 8,000 County Committee seats are up for election. Committee members oversee operations in more than 2,300 local FSA offices across the nation.

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