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MALAD, Idaho — Farmers in Southeast Idaho are dealing with some of the worst crop yields they've ever seen. Area reservoirs have all but completely dried up, closing off the watering season several weeks early.
"For this area, (it's) been dry for over a month and a half," said farmer and rancher Tracy Davis. "The hay crops are way less, probably half of what they were last year, and the price of hay and feed has gone through the roof."
Farmers like Davis can typically receive assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, where they get help buying grass seeds that they plant in fields where cattle can later graze in, rather than having to buy expensive hay elsewhere. Davis was among the dozens who were in the midst of applying for that help, when a shake-up at the area's USDA Service Center happened.
"There are people in the office, but they're not our local people that understand our operations, that understand what's going on here in our community," Davis explained.
Last week, two longtime Farm Service Agency staff members were escorted from the building. Temporary staffers are now there until new employees can be hired. Jay Hansen, a local FSA committee member, said the two staffers were fired amid grievances filed against them and a pending investigation. Other than that, he said he's in the dark.
"We want those two people back in our office again," Hansen said. "This is all happening at a very crucial time. It caught us all by surprise that this happened when it did."
Farmers like Davis are in limbo as they try and decide what to do with their cattle. Frustrations came to a head last week, when more than a hundred farmers gathered outside the USDA Service Center. Temporary employees shut down the office and an armed guard was brought in. The guard has continued to remain on duty inside the office.
About a couple dozen farmers gathered just down the street from the service center Thursday, in an effort to find answers. Idaho Sen. Mark Harris of Soda Springs was there. Harris says he's been assured that farmer applications for help will be processed in time for the Sept. 30 deadline. He, however, does not agree with the extra security measures.
"The armed guard situation is very strange," Harris said. "To me, as a producer, it's an insult to have an armed guard at my FSA office."
Harris said state FSA representatives did not provide him with any information on the recent firings, or pending investigation.
"This is a drought year. It's a hard year for farmers and ranchers, and to lose two key people in this office, in this FSA office, is a detriment to this community and this valley," Harris said.