While Congress remained mired in a funding gridlock on Capitol Hill late Wednesday afternoon, some federal services essential to U.S. farmers and ranchers were unavailable.
In the short term, that is a frustration and inconvenience for many in agriculture, not yet interfering with their business plans or costing money, said Dale Moore, director of public policy for American Farm Bureau Federation. But if it continues, even into next week, the shutdown could have significant impacts on agriculture.
An array of programs and services under USDA and the Department of the Interior impact agricultural producers, from data collection and food inspections to conservation and grazing programs.
Due to a lack of funding, USDA has furloughed 69 percent of its 97,902 employees and Interior has furloughed 81 percent of its 72,562 employees.
Meat and poultry inspections will continue under USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Services, allowing slaughter plants to continue to operate. Any disturbances there would have had a significant impact, Moore said.
Inspection of fruits, vegetables and nursery products will also continue under USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, as will services for which industry pays fees, such as fruit and vegetable grading under Agricultural Marketing Service. The issue there is that those fee for service programs could be phased out the longer a shutdown continues, he said.
While important inspections will continue, producers do not have access to other programs, reports, technical assistance and agencies.
Local offices are closed for many agencies, including Farm Service Agency, National Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If the shutdown is not resolved soon, it’s going to interfere with business decisions and time-sensitive ag practices, and start costing producers money, he said. Long lines at agency offices and a backlog of work at those agencies will also hinder producers if the shutdown is not resolved soon, he said.
As of the Capital Press Wednesday print deadline, there was no indication of when the shutdown might be resolved.
One of the most immediate areas of concern is lack of data provided by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which producers and industry rely heavily on for marketing and pricing strategies.
No one really knows when the shutdown is going to end, said Judd Deere, press secretary for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Wednesday afternoon.
Crapo was in meetings all day with his colleagues trying to find a resolution, but there was nothing new as of Wednesday, he said.
The Treasury Department also notified Congress Wednesday that it has until Oct. 17 to raise the federal debt ceiling. If the shutdown continues, a continuing resolution to fund government and the debt ceiling could be rolled into one to solve both issues, he said.
If industry or producers didn’t yet check out a September report or are counting on an early October report, that information flow is now shut down. If the shutdown goes into next week and there is no information tied to government-issued data, it’s going to be a problem, Moore said.
The longer it goes on, the more agriculture is going to find out just how much USDA and Interior are ingrained in agricultural enterprises, from boots on the ground all the way up to the futures markets, he said.
“In a nut shell virtually every farmer, rancher and ag producer will have a slightly different list as to where he or she is feeling the impact, particularly as it carries on longer,” he said.
Moore said he had no idea how long the gridlock might last and had yet to hear anything on how Congress and President Obama are going to get it sorted out, he said.
To view federal agencies’ contingency plans, visit:
Agency total employees furloughed employees
USDA 97,902 66,977
DOI 72,562 58,541
SOURCE: USDA and DOI