The shutdown of the federal government is big news, but its actual impact on farmers is minimal. The USDA web site, along with many other government sites, went dark and some regular reports from USDA may not be issued. But federal meat inspectors will remain on the job, so packing plants will continue to operate. Collin Woodall, with the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, says the biggest impact on the livestock sector will be the lack of some key market reports, “As we understand it the mandatory price reporting system will not be operating during the shutdown.” He said this could leave producers without key marketing information. Some grain and meat traders said the lack of export inspection reports could become a market factor. If the shutdown persists for a longer period of time, the absence of this key information could lead to increased market volatility.
USDA’s shutdown plans keep 87 percent of the 9,633 employees at its Food Safety and Inspection Service, charged with protecting the safety of meat, poultry and eggs, on the job. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said people whose programs are not funded through the budget can continue to stay on the job. They may get paid retroactively. Also remaining on the job are workers whose jobs are paid for from money brought over from the prior budget year, so-called carryover money.
At the USDA, the shutdown has halted enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program, and Farm Service Agency offices are closed. A handful of FSA activities deemed essential to protecting property, such as emergency and natural disasters response, have not been affected.
American Farm Bureau budget specialist RJ Karney says a long term shutdown would have a greater impact on farmers than a short term closure, “If the shutdown continues over a longer period of time, there will be a lot more uncertainty for farmers and ranchers about what’s going to happen with the Farm Bill. Immigration issues need to be addressed by this Congress; and these are major, major issues for farmers and ranchers. Everything else will be placed on hold until Congress can take care of these budgetary issues.”
Woodall also feels the shutdown will spell the end of any progress on immigration reform, “While I feel we will get a Farm Bill by the end of the year, this shutdown will put off any further progress on immigration reform for a least a year and perhaps as long as two years.”