The U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to shutter 131 farm lending offices in 32 states as part of a broad mandate from the Obama administration to trim $150 million from its annual budget.
The offices are run by the USDA's Farm Service Agency, which, among its other responsibilities, provides direct loans to family-size farmers who cannot qualify for loans from traditional banks or the Farm Credit System. The agency also works with traditional lenders to provide loan guarantees similar to those offered by the Small Business Administration.
In a news release Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the cuts are in response to a roughly $3 billion reduction in the agency's operating expenses since 2010. Most of the offices scheduled for closure are one- or two-person shops that are within 20 miles of other loan offices, and even after the offices are closed, Vilsack said, the Farm Service Agency would still have more than 2,100 offices nationwide.
"The USDA, like families and businesses across the country, cannot continue to operate like we did 50 years ago," Vilsack said in explaining the move. "We must innovate, modernize, and be better stewards of the taxpayers' dollars."
Apart from the Farm Service Agency offices, the USDA also intends to close 128 other offices and laboratories, including rural development, food safety, animal and plant inspection and research facilities.