Government shutdown hits America’s farmers

Just as national parks and Veterans face serious setbacks, family farmers too continue to struggle under the weight of the government shutdown in Washington. As the Rural Advancement Foundation International’s Scott Marlow estimates, the delay in budget approval by congress may cost up to 1,400 farmers their farms.

This is a direct result of the sudden lack of funding funneling to farmers, as 1,423 are left waiting for the direct farm operating loans that they were already approved for. What’s more, over 2,000 beginning farmers are waiting for direct farm ownership loans and over 1,000 wait for guaranteed operating loans.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle farmers face in light of the shutdown. Farmers struggle to predict market trends without the agricultural reports typically released weekly by the National Agriculture Statistics Service under the USDA. Many farmers depend on these figures to determine the price of their crops, when to sell commodity crops and cattle auction prices. Not only are they now left without new figures, but also the websites that contained old data are down until the shutdown ends.

The domestic hog market in particular is affected by the shutdown, as traders increasingly back away from the $97 billion market. With no clear end in sight, the lean hogs futures dropped 47 percent immediately following the beginning of the shutdown.

These issues come among a slew of other problems related to food and farming, including the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s inability to monitor foodborne illnesses throughout the remainder of the shutdown. In the span of the shutdown thus far, 278 illnesses from chicken contaminated with Salmonella were reported in 18 different states. Though it is suspected the outbreak comes directly from Foster Farms, the US Department of Agriculture cannot conduct a proper investigation during the Congressional delays.

Congress was warned of the challenges a shutdown would create. Now family farmers are left waiting at a time when some farmers are also facing devastating weather conditions, such as the flooding in Colorado and the deadly blizzard that swept across South Dakota. For now, the only thing for certain is this shutdown will have a lasting impact on America’s family farmers.

Be Counted! Turn In Your Ag Census Form by Feb. 4th

Every five years, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) conducts the Census of Agriculture.

Data collected in the Census of Agriculture ranges from land use and production practices to farm expenditures and farm ownership demographics. This critical information is used to shape policy, USDA programs, research, and funding for farmers and ranchers throughout the country. Says Renee Picanso of NASS, “If you want to be heard and you want agriculture represented, now is your chance.”

All farmers should have received Census forms in the mail this December. The deadline to return forms (either by mail or online) is Monday, February 4th. 

For Census purposes, a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold during the Census year (2012). Any farmers, new or established, who did not receive a questionnaire in the mail should provide their contact information at www.agcounts.usda.gov/cgi-bin/counts/ and NASS will send them a questionnaire. You will have until March 31st to sign up.

Visit www.agcensus.usda.gov to submit Census forms online and to find tips or answers to frequently asked questions.