Morris retires after 37 years of serving Stanly farmers

A familiar face will soon be missing from the USDA Farm Service Agency office in Stanly County as longtime program technician Karen Morris retires.

“You name it, I’ve done it,” Morris joked, one day before the 37th anniversary of her hire. “We provide service directly to farmers related to federal farm programs, so anything passed down from Congress we help administer on the local level.”

Morris started as a temporary hire with USDA.

“I was thinking maybe this will turn into something,” she said. “I needed the insurance that a full-time position would provide.”

A year and a half later, she had accepted a position as a full-time staffer and has been a mainstay with the agency ever since.

Her first duty after being hired as a temp was transferring farmland maps of the county to files.

“All that is computerized now, but back then it was a very time-consuming job,” she said.
Morris came in at the end of the hard-copy age, as most of the agency’s files now are digital. The transition was a major task, she said.

“Myself and other temps did quite a bit of data transfer as we shifted over to computers. All of our crop reports and statistics were done by hand before 1985.”

Now, Morris is involved with a number of federal programs administered through the local office. These include the Agriculture Risk (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, which provide financial protections to farmers from substantial drops in crop prices or revenues, and the USDA Commodity Loan program, in which value is established both on farm-stored grain and on grain in commercial storage.

“Farmers receive the value of the loan at the time a commodity loan is made,” said Morris. “Then the grain can be stored until the price goes up.”

The county has seen a number of changes in farming during Morris’ time with the agency.

“In 1985, there were five dairy farms in the county,” she said. “Now there is only one.”
Primary crops have changed as well.

“Cotton is our number one crop now,” she said, “as opposed to corn and others in the past.”

Having grown up on a dairy farm herself, Morris loves the farmers she sees on a daily basis, noting that many, while “threatening” to retire, continue year after year.

“I knew many of the farmers before I even started working here,” she said. “And after being out front (in the office) for 30-plus years, I’ve met quite a few more.”

On the subject of headaches the career has created, Morris noted only two, both created by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has made the job harder, both for us and the farmers. Social distancing requirements have resulted in changes so that reports, applications and other items our farmers are to submit can be done digitally.”

“However,” she added, “that’s a problem for a lot of our farmers who have not computerized their operations,” she said.

For those farmers, forms had to be printed out and handed out so they could complete them by hand.

In a similar vein, Morris expressed her dislike of telecommuting, another implementation resulting from COVID.

“I just don’t like it,” she said.

Retirement will give Morris time to “just enjoy it for a couple of months,” as well as volunteer at her church, and spend time with her husband, Todd, a gun library manager at Cabela’s in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

“It’s been a wonderful place to work,” said Morris. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 37 years.”