IT seems the U.S. public continues to be a political pawn in the continued government standoff. Two weeks into the government shutdown, effects are beginning to become noticeable and notable across the agriculture industry.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson sent a letter Oct. 10 to Senate and House leadership highlighting some of the serious concerns and impacts it is having on family farmers and ranchers.
"Perhaps most disappointing about all of these manufactured crises, exacerbated by the lapsed farm bill, is that solutions are close at hand, but Congress chooses not to execute them," Johnson said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture remains virtually shuttered, with only minimal staff and a website that redirects to a page explaining that the full site is unavailable due to a lack of funding. In farm country, this means the livestock producers devastated by an early snow or floods couldn't receive help from their local Farm Service Agency offices.
"(USDA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are prepared to handle events like these, but the government shutdown, along with the expired farm bill, leaves ranchers without the urgent help they need," Johnson said. "Both the House and Senate versions of the pending farm bill include a retroactive livestock indemnity provision, which would provide much-needed assistance to ranchers but cannot be accessed because of the legislative stalemate."
It means the closely watched Oct. 11 "Crop Production" and "World Agricultural Supply & Demand Estimates" reports weren't updated. Grain traders have had to rely more heavily on private estimates and data companies without the government's big-picture view.
For livestock markets, it's a bigger deal because of their dependence on USDA's daily numbers for slaughter and wholesale pork and beef prices. CME Group set up special steps to establish the final settlement for its October lean hog contract.
Kevin Roepke, U.S. Grains Council manager of global trade, has to encourage importers to actively manage their risk to mitigate the increased uncertainty.
"Without the core government reports, the market lacks a clear direction and is vulnerable to various headline swings, especially if and when the government fully reopens," Roepke said.
The council also reported that it is currently engaged in a critical issue affecting implementation of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, and the furlough of relevant USDA Foreign Agricultural Service staff in Panama and U.S. Trade Representative staff is a "serious impediment to resolution."
The shutdown has stopped payments for previously approved commodity marketing loans and the ability for the government to co-sign checks for the sale of crops or livestock from farmers or ranchers with Farm Service Agency loans, which is crippling commerce in rural communities.
In rural America, USDA issues 132,000 mortgage loans a year. The zero-down payment loan option is a lifeline to many rural communities and left many in the dark when the agency closed its doors.
Add in the salmonella outbreak that a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention spokesperson said was hampered by the agency's skeletal staff, and now, people's lives are truly at stake.
The list of the ripple effects will go on as leaders on Capitol Hill continue their impasse.
The bottom line, as Johnson put it: "Family farmers, ranchers and rural communities should not be forced to suffer the consequences of legislative breakdowns and political handwringing in our nation's capital."