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North Carolina Farmers Eye Spending Cuts

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RALEIGH — A move to balance the federal budget is on thefast track in our nation's capital. Included in the measure are some verytough decisions, such as what programs to cut to bring spending in linewith income.

Across the nation, farmers are concerned that some of those cuts mayhit too close to home. Such changes could affect the productivity of someof the nation's farmers.

NC farmers met Tuesday night with Congressman Bobby Etheridge at theNash County Agricultural Center. There, farmers voiced their opposition tothe closing of any Federal Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. They seethose offices as vital to their livelihood and fear that government, inits rush to cut the budget, may bite the hand that feeds it.

Farmer David Grant makes about six trips each year to the NorthamptonFSA, the federal office responsible for collecting crop reports, handlinggovernment crop insurance, and overseeing federal support programs forcrops such as tobacco and peanuts. To save money in an era of shrinkinggovernment, some in Congress want to close or consolidate FSA officesnationwide. That would force many growers to drive to adjacent counties ormake long distance telephone calls in order to deal with agents. Grantsays that will hurt farmers, especially small ones.

NC Agricultural Department Spokesperson Jim Knight says such cutbackswould cut into farmers' bottom lines and would leave many geographicallyisolated from FSA services.

Etheridge is holding a series of three public meetings on the subject.Those meetings were prompted by his receipt of a petition signed by 20,000Tarheel farmers. Etheridge says the petition, which asked that farmers beallowed input into decisions surrounding cuts, prompted discussion aboutthe realities of the situation.

Now, Washington has agreed to hold off on cuts until it has moreinformation. Congressman Etheridge has scheduled the other meetings forThursday night in Durham and Monday night in Smithfield.