Farmers miss USDA services

Farm groups say the partial government shutdown has stopped or delayed important services the USDA provides.

 A wall is standing between farmers and ranchers and the government assistance and insurance they need to keep their operations intact.

The standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a wall on the Mexican border has stalled funding for USDA and shut down “non-essential” activities.

But many of those services are critical to producers, including financial and technical assistance and access to market data.

“Many of the activities deemed ‘non-essential’ by USDA are absolutely essential to family farmers this time of year,” Andrew Jerome, communications director for National Farmers Union, said.

Producers have bills to pay, and they need the cash flow provided by loans and Market Facilitation Program payments that come through Farm Services Agency offices, he said.

“They need USDA data to make informed decisions when planning for the coming year,” he said.

On top of that, they need government experts back at their desks working on implementation of the new farm bill and on expanding sales of higher level blends of ethanol, he said.

“The longer this shutdown goes on, the worse off conditions get for family farmers and ranchers who need a strong 2019,” he said.

The shutdown is impacting producers in a lot of different ways, John Newton, American Farm Bureau Federation chief economist, said.

All FSA loans have stopped, and that also impacts loans from major lending institutions that lean on those loans in approving commercial loans. Other FSA payments have also stopped, and getting money in a timely fashion is important for growers, he said.

Several reports, including the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, winter wheat seeding and a weekly export report, were due out, and those are pretty critical in making planting decisions, he said on Friday.

USDA is unable to implement the new farm bill, make program payments or prepare for program enrollment, he said.

The first payments for the new Dairy Margin Coverage program were supposed to go out in February or March. Signup for the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs for major field crops needs to happen in the spring, he said.

Signup for those programs will be retroactive once the government reopens, but producers still won’t get payments for several months, he said.

These are some of the issues that have come to the surface, but there could be a lot of other issues producers are dealing with, he said.

Fortunately for livestock producers, mandatory price reporting and meat inspections are continuing, Colin Woodall, senior vice president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.

But a lot of producers are waiting on FSA payments to make investments or purchases. In some cases, producers have FSA checks in hand but they have to be signed by a local FSA official — and those offices are closed, he said.

There is also the risk that cattle inventories and market analysis and trend reports won’t be done and the industry might not be able to get that data back, he said.

“It’s anybody’s guess how much longer this could last. I think as it continues, there’ll be more things pop up,” he said.

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