On Wednesday evening October 16, Congress passed a temporary deal to end the government shutdown. It funds the federal government under a Continuing Resolution (extending fiscal year 2013 funding levels) through January 15, 2014. It also delays the need for a debt ceiling increase until February 7, 2014. The deal requires that both chambers must work out a deal through a budget conference before December 13, 2013. The conference committee will be tasked with agreeing to budget numbers and crafting a bipartisan deal to address long-term deficit reduction.
With the federal government shut down the past two weeks, and county FSA offices closed, how did that shutdown affect USDA programs and the Farm Service Agency's operations in Iowa? It also affected the operations of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. FSA and NRCS offices have now reopened.
How did the government shutdown affect USDA programs?
"We couldn't do anything with farmers during the shutdown because we were prohibited from working," says John Whitaker, state executive director for FSA in Iowa. "If there was a natural disaster, such as the tornado that hit northwest Iowa, we couldn't offer services for clean-up. Also, October is payment month for the Conservation Reserve Program. People participating in that program haven't been issued their checks yet. It likely will be pushed into next week. We're still working on bringing computer systems up," he said on October 18.
Whitaker says USDA was getting ready in late September to make the payments, as CRP payments were scheduled to be made after October 1. But October 1 was when the federal government shut down. "With the shutdown we couldn't issue the payments," notes Whitaker. "Now we have to start the process over and that will take several days to do a rollover and load everything into the computer. It'll take a little time. We're estimating early next week we can get information sent to the FSA county offices so they can have the information, then it takes a day or so to get rolling once they begin. That's for CRP payments."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Iowa FSA chief says CRP checks will likely be issued next week
How about beginning farmer loans? "We can begin setting them up and getting those funded immediately," he says, "because they were in the computer system. We just couldn't sit down and sign the papers. They have to be co-signed."
What else do farmers need to know now that USDA is getting back into operational mode? If you had any livestock losses during the shutdown time, such as in South Dakota, take photos and document your losses. And let the county FSA office know. "USDA doesn't have a livestock program at this time," notes Whitaker. "But I do know that in both the House and Senate versions of the new farm bill, there was the old USDA livestock indemnity program and it was proposed to be funded retroactively back into 2012-13. So that may be a possibility yet to come. We'd like for farmers to have the evidence in case we do get that program restored."
With the two-week shutdown now over, is there anything else farmers should know?
Anytime a farmer has a question, the county FSA office is always the best source of information, says Whitaker. "Talk to you county office -- you have your locally elected committee and they understand agriculture in your area. We do have county committee elections coming up and ballots will be mailed to farmers to vote for the candidates running for those county committees. County committees are important, you should always check with your county office when you have a question."
Water quality cost share cover crop deadline extended
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced October 17 that farmers participating in the state water quality cost-share program, who are planting cover crops, have until October 31, 2013 to get the cover crops in the ground and still qualify for state assistance. This deadline has been pushed back from the original October 15, 2013 deadline because of late planting and harvest conditions. This only applies to species that will seed well in cold weather. Farmers who had been approved for cost share assistance and are unable to get cover crops seeded should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.