The current government shutdown hasn’t made any significant impact on area farmers, but if it continues, farmers may not be able to secure loans, sign up for necessary programs or sell their crops.
Entering into its third week, the shutdown appears to be a battle between President Donald Trump and the Democratic Party over demands for funding, mainly over $5 billion for Trump’s proposed border wall.
During the temporary, partial shutdown, many federal offices are closed. One such office is the USDA office in the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture Complex on Langston Chapel Road, where the Farm Services Agency provides many services.
A call to the FSA office is met with a message that the closure is due to the government shutdown, but no one knows when the end will come. Right now, farmers aren’t yet in a squeeze, but if action doesn’t come soon, things could get very difficult, some farmers say.
The USDA FSA ceased operation Dec. 18 due to “lapse in appropriation,” according to its website, which also will not be updated until he shutdown is over.
The office handles disaster loans such as for hurricane damages, as well as other emergency farm loans, services and programs.
Commodity loan activity is also halted, and “access to the following automated FSA systems will no longer be available: Commodity Loan Processing System (CLPS), Cotton On-Line Processing System (COPS), Automated Cotton Reporting System (ACRS), and Centralized Cotton Redemption (CCR),” according to the site.
Screven County farmer Clint Finch is concerned about the sale of his cotton crop, as well as any potential loans.
“If the government is shut down, we can’t get any federal guarantees on farm loans,” he said.
Wayne Mallard, a Bulloch County farmer, said the pressure hasn’t been tough yet, but soon, if things don’t change, farming operations may get a little tight.
“We have the sign-ups (for farming programs regarding what farmers will plant) coming up, but usually they don’t get going until February or March,” he said.
With no clear end in sight for the shutdown, many farmers are anxious.
According to the USDA site, “Farm-stored commodities pledged as Commodity Credit Corporation collateral can be marketed (moved for purchase to a buyer) or fed, however, (some) activities will not be processed while the government is shutdown.”
These include loan repayments, loan disbursements, refunds and termination of transfers.
Loan applications will not be processed or considered until the lapse in federal funding due to the shutdown is resolved.
Josh Brannen, also a Bulloch County farmer, says changes to the Farm Bill and having to wrap up subsidy programs could be halted if the shutdown is not resolved soon.
“It will pretty much come to a standstill,” he said.
However, according to www.usda.gov/media/press, many services will carry on, while others were discontinued Jan. 1 because available funds have been expended.
“Certain USDA activities would remain active because they
are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property, or are
financed through available funding (such as through mandatory appropriations,
multi-year discretionary funding, or user fees),” the site says.
“During the first week of the shutdown, 62 percent of employees have been either exempted or excepted from shutdown activities. If the shutdown continues, this percentage would decrease, and activities would be reduced as available funding decreases.”
Trump has announced tax refunds will not be delayed due to the shutdown, and food stamps and other nutritional programs are funded at least through January.
USDA activities that will continue beyond Jan. 1 include:
- Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services.
- Grain and other commodity inspection, weighing, grading, and IT support services funded by user fees.
- Inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the U.S., including inspections from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the mainland.
- Forest Service law enforcement, emergency and natural disaster response, and national defense preparedness efforts.
- Continuity and maintenance of some research measurements and research-related infrastructure, such as germplasm, seed storage, and greenhouses.
- Care for animals, plants, and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research and to comply with the Wild Horses and Burros statute.
- Eligible households will still receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January.
- Most other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the state and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available. Additional federal funds will not be provided during the period of the lapse, however deliveries of already-purchased commodities will continue.
- The Child Nutrition (CN) programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk, will continue operations into February. Meal providers are paid on a reimbursement basis 30 days after the end of the service month.
- Minimal administrative and management support, including to excepted IT systems and contracts, will be maintained to support the above activities.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service offices will remain open to support conservation technical and financial assistance (such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program and easement programs).
- USDA’s Market News Service, which provides market information to the agricultural industry.
USDA activities that have not continued include:
- USDA Farm Service Agency county offices closed at the end of business on Dec. 28.
- Provision of new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses.
- Recreation sites across the U.S. National Forest System, unless they are operated by external parties under a recreational special use permit, will be closed. While technically closed, many will still be physically accessible to visitors at their own risk, but without staffing at ranger stations and without access to facilities such as public restrooms.
- New timber sales.
- Most forest fuels reduction activities in and around communities.
- NASS statistics, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections.
- Assistance for the control of some plant and animal pests and diseases unless funded by cooperators or other non-appropriated sources.
- Research facilities except for the care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research.
- Provision of new grants or processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education, and extension.
Other local services
Other federal government services that have not been affected on the local level include federal court. Federal property manager Julius Goodman said Tuesday that federal cases will still be heard as scheduled in the Statesboro Prince J. Preston Federal Building on North Main Street.
Also, the operations at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport will continue as usual. Manager Kathy Boykin said the local airport doesn’t use TSA (Homeland Security) services and handles no commercial flights.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489 9414.