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History of USDA's Farm Service Agency

The Farm Service Agency traces its beginnings to 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression. A wave of discontent caused by mounting unemployment and farm failures had helped elect President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised Americans a "New Deal."

One result was the establishment in 1935 of a Department of Agriculture agency with familiar initials: FSA, which stood for Farm Security Administration. Originally called the Resettlement Administration, and renamed in 1937, its original mission was to relocate entire farm communities to areas in which it was hoped farming could be carried out more profitably. But resettlement was controversial and expensive, and its results ambiguous. Other roles soon became more important, including the Standard Rural Rehabilitation Loan Program, which provided credit, farm and home management planning and technical supervision. This was the forerunner of the farm loan programs of the Farmers Home Administration.

Another related program was Debt Adjustment and Tenure Improvement. FSA county supervisors, sometimes with the help of volunteer committees of local farmers, would work with farmers and their debtors to try to arbitrate agreements and head off foreclosure. The idea was to reach a deal by which the bank could recover as much or more than it would through foreclosure by allowing the farmer to remain in business.

FSA also promoted co-ops and even provided medical care to poor rural families. Although the scope of its programs was limited, poor farm families who took part benefited greatly. One study estimates that families who participated in FSA programs saw their incomes rise by 69 percent between 1937 and 1941! Annual per capita meat consumption increased from 85 pounds to 447 pounds in the same period. Milk consumption increased by more than half.

In 1946 the Farmers Home Administration Act consolidated the Farm Security Administration with the Emergency Crop and Feed Loan Division of the Farm Credit Administration - a quasi-governmental agency that still exists today. This Act added authorities to the new Farmers Home Administration that included insuring loans made by other lenders. Later legislation established lending for rural housing, rural business enterprises, and rural water and waste disposal agencies.

Meanwhile, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 had established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, or AAA. The "Triple A's" purpose was to stabilize farm prices at a level at which farmers could survive. The law established state and county committees of farmers called "Triple A committees." These committees oversaw the first federal farm program offering price support loans to farmers to bring about crop reduction.

The old Triple A was built on two major program divisions: the Division of Production and the Division of Processing and Marketing. These were responsible for the work of commodity sections including dairy, rice, tobacco, sugar, wheat, cotton, corn and hogs.

With the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 and a general reorganization of the Department of Agriculture that October came new, complicated changes in conservation, crop support and marketing legislation. Programs such as commodity marketing controls, and the policy of the Congress to assist farmers in obtaining parity prices and parity income, made the federal government the decision-maker for the nation's farmers.

After Pearl Harbor, the War Food Administration (WFA) was organized to meet the increased needs of a country at war. This reorganization grouped production, supply and marketing authorities under a central agency which coordinated the flow of basic commodities.

Following World War II, the authority of the WFA was terminated. In its place came the Production and Marketing Administration, which, aside from other responsibilities, maintained a field services branch to aid in program oversight.

The post-war period of adjustment to peace-time production levels was almost as difficult as gearing up for war. New priorities had to be established, and at the same time, over-production of certain commodities threatened drops in farm income levels. The increased needs of war-ravaged nations helped absorb surplus production, but surpluses remained a nagging problem for farmers and policymakers.

In 1953, a reorganization of USDA again made changes in the powers and duties of its price support and supply management agency. With the changes came a new name - Commodity Stabilization Service - and an increased emphasis on the preservation of farm income. Conserving programs such as the Soil Bank were introduced to bring production in line with demand by taking land out of production for periods of time ranging up to 10 years. Community, county and state committees were formally identified for the first time as Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation committees.

The Commodity Stabilization Service became the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) in 1961, and the new name reflected the agency's stabilization and resource conservation missions. Field activities in connection with farm programs continue to be carried out through an extensive network of state and county field offices.

In 1994, a reorganization of USDA resulted in the Consolidated Farm Service Agency, renamed Farm Service Agency in November 1995. The new FSA encompassed the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) and the farm credit portion of the Farmers Home Administration. In May 1996 FCIC became the Risk Management Agency.

Today, FSA's responsibilities are organized into five areas: Farm Programs, Farm Loans, Commodity Operations, Management and State Operations. The agency continues to provide America's farmers with a strong safety net through the administration of farm commodity programs. FSA also implements ad hoc disaster programs. FSA's long-standing tradition of conserving the nation's natural resources continues through the Conservation Reserve Program. The agency provides credit to agricultural producers who are unable to receive private, commercial credit. FSA places special emphasis on providing loans to beginning, minority and women farmers and ranchers. Its Commodity Operations division purchases and delivers commodities for use in humanitarian programs at home and abroad. FSA programs help feed America's school children and hungry people around the globe. Additionally, the agency supports the nation's disabled citizens by purchasing products made by these persons.