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Shutdown affects farmers in many ways

Oct. 17, 2013 | 0 comments



As the government shutdown entered its third week farmers are beginning to feel the effects of a U.S. Department of Agriculture that largely is not in operation.

Farmers who have Farm Service Agency (FSA) operating loans are having trouble accessing funds from the sale of collateral they used to get their operating loans. That’s because an FSA employee must co-sign any checks the farmer gets.

In one case a Dane County farmer sold cattle prior to the government shutdown and got the check after Congress failed to come to an agreement to keep the government running.

Because there are no government employees to sign the check, it means he can’t pay businesses he owes money to.

Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analysts for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, said the organic food industry is feeling the pinch.

A meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, a unique regulatory structure created by Congress to advise the U.S. Agriculture Secretary on policies impacting the organic industry, has been canceled.

The board’s duty is to oversee and review approval for materials and ingredients used in organic farming and food production.

"Progress in managing the organic industry, enforcement and oversight have all come to a screeching halt with the gridlock in Washington," said Kastel.

There are several large and ongoing issues that were going to be tackled at that Oct. 21 meeting and now there’s no indication of when the important meeting will be held.


Federal employees

Last week the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) initiated a default proceeding against Ruby Grain, LLC under the state’s agricultural producer security law after getting several complaints from Wisconsin farmers about non-payment for grain sold to the company.

In making that announcement, DATCP officials said Ruby Grain was affiliated with Wisconsin Rapids Grain, LLC, adding that information about that grain warehouse is through a U.S. Department of Agriculture official.

The DATCP press release noted that due to the federal shutdown, USDA employees may be on furlough.

Farmers attempting to leave a message for the federal grain inspection official may encounter a full voice mailbox and in that instance were advised to contact Eric Hanson at DATCP (608-224-4968 or Eric.Hanson@wi.gov.)

Some federal employees are deemed essential and have been exempt from the furlough, including those in roles like meat inspectors with the USDA.

Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack recently included some employees with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics eligible to return to work during the government shutdown.

Officials said those employees are necessary to ensure that veterinarians and farmers have access to vaccinations they need to keep their livestock healthy.

During World Dairy Expo, which occurred at the beginning of the shutdown, some cattle breeders were already complaining that the federal shutdown left them without USDA veterinarians to help them with export papers for cattle.

Trade negotiations are also being affected. Talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are on hold during the shutdown.

Sequestration had already forced serious cuts to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the shutdown has further limited its capacity to negotiate and enforce trade deals. Three-quarters of the department’s employees have been furloughed.

The TPP agreement was to have been concluded at the end of the year, but more work is needed in several key areas, said a dairy industry group, and the shutdown could hinder participation by USTR officials in future negotiating sessions.

There are similar problems brought on by budget cuts and the shutdown with regard to the TTIP.

A second round of negotiations between the United States and the European Union was scheduled last week in Brussels but was canceled due to the shutdown. A new date has not been scheduled.


Grain info lacking

Many farmers are complaining that with the grain harvest in full swing, there are no government reports to document what’s coming off the fields, which of course affects the price of commodities in the marketplace.

It’s been a closely watched crop because of unusual weather throughout much of the Corn Belt this year. The timing of the shutdown is causing concern for farmers who buy and sell grain as well as the marketing arm of the industry.

The market had been anxiously waiting for the USDA’s release of the World Agricultural Supply and Demand report, which has a big influence on commodity markets.

With the furlough of employees in the National Agricultural Statistics Service, that report is one of those that hangs in limbo, without anyone to compile and release the data.

As if the storm in Congress weren’t enough there was a real one last week in the Great Plains as Mother Nature proved she was not on furlough.

Blizzards hit South Dakota and Wyoming in a strong and early winter storm, catching many cattle producers with animals still on summer pastures. Up to 70 inches or more of blowing snow hit those areas, causing extreme losses among those herds.

Some lawmakers said this kind of event enforces the importance of a federal farm bill to help farmers and ranchers who have been hammered by the storms.

There are some estimates that up to 100,000 head of cattle have been lost to the storm because it hit before the fall roundup and cattle were unprotected on the open ranges.

As is often the case, the toll is expected to rise.

In a blog post, Val Wagner, a North Dakota Farm Bureau member wrote, "At a time when assistance from elected officials could be felt the most, there is no one there to answer the phone."

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