Just when the longest political shutdown of the federal government in the nation’s history had started to impact people in North Dakota, the farmers and ranchers got more than one reprieve.
By Brad Mosher
First it was when the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Jan. 16 that the Farm Service Agency would reopen for three days (Jan. 17, 18 and 22) to temporarily help farmers and ranchers with certain duties.
Then, Jan. 25, the shutdown ended, but with the possibility of it returning again in mid February.
The shutdown of part of the federal government may seem a world away from rural North Dakota.
But it wasn’t not for long.
Farmers. National Parks. People receiving food stamps.
That is just a partial list of the impact which started arriving in the Peace Garden state.
Right after the shutdown started, the National Parks in North Dakota felt the impact first. The parks remained open, but all visitor and park maintenance services were stopped. The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service is part of the Department of Agriculture.
When it comes to the Farm Service Agency, there are several branches in western North Dakota.
In Dunn County, the Killdeer Service Center is located at 105 Rodeo Drive.
Inside, the Farm Service Agency’s Service Center Offices are also the Natural Resources Conservation Service offices.
In Hettinger County, the office is located at 319 Brown Avenue in Mott.
In Adams County, the offices are at 609 Second Avenue N in Hettinger.
In Bowman County, the offices are at 111 Second Avenue NW in Bowman.
In Stark County, the offices are located at 2493 Fourth Avenue W Room B in Dickinson.
According to Duaine Marxen, the North Dakota State University Extension Agent for Hettinger County, the farmers in North Dakota have had some good timing and avoided most of the impact of the shutdown – so far.
The fact that it is winter and farmers haven’t started their crops yet is good for them, Marxen explained Monday. The bigger current problem has been the changes in the market created by the trade war, he said.
“That makes it tough when you are trying to deal with tight margins,” he said, noting the farmers will have to make a decision soon.
“Where do I go ahead and sink my dollars into the ground. What do I do? Do I do wheat? Do I do corn? Do I do soybeans?,” that is the dilemma facing the farmers now in North Dakota.
“Where can I find the best market?
“Right now, with all the jumping around with the China situation, it makes it difficult. What are you going to do?
That is the situation facing the farmers today, the extension agent said.
“They need to go ahead and do what they have always done. If you don’t understand or know what to do, then in the spring, just follow your gut.”
The biggest impact for farmers now with the government shutdown is how it is affecting farmers who were trying to set up loans, according to Marxen.
The ones who already have loans can still make payments, but the ones who were trying to get loans have been stopped cold by the shutdown. “There is no one in the offices to process the loan,” he explained.
“If you wanted to take out a commodity loan, you can’t do it right now, simply because of the shutdown,” he said.
There are still other options for those trying to get a Commodities Loan, he added. “It really doesn’t pay all that well. A lot of guys don’t do it, but others need it for their operating coming into the spring,” Marxen said.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service may be in even more serious jeopardy, the extension agent for Hettinger County said. “The farther you get into the growing season, obviously, you are going to start having issues with it.
“In January and February, you can’t really do anything anyway.
“If we are going to have a government shutdown than this is the best time of the year as far as farmers are concerned,” Marxen said.
“It is that time of year when nobody will be that shook up. You can’t put anything in the ground,” Marxen said. As spring nears and crops are not planted, that will add to the problems for the farmer. he said.
“Currently, banks are putting together operating notes for farmers to get farms started. What is more of an issue right now is interest rates.”
According to Marxen, this is the time of year when operating notes are settled and when banks make their decisions on who to fund.
Farm Services Agency
The websites and telephone numbers for the Farm Services Agency explain about the impact of the government shutdown on the local impacts, Marxen explained., adding that people in Hettinger County can call the local FSA for the response to the shutdown (701-824-2691 and option 2).
The website for the Farm Services Agency, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, hasd a message posted. “Due to a lapse in funding, this USDA website will not be actively updated. Once funding has been reestablished, online operations will continue,” it said.
In addition, the offices, which have been closed since Dec. 28, means there will be impact on the farmers and others who have been using the agency.
The impact on the Market Facilitation Program is split. “Farmers who have already applied for the Market Facilitation Program and certified their production by Dec. 28, 2018 received payments. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue extended the deadline for agricultural producers to apply for the program for a period of time equal to the number of business days FSA offices we closed, once the government shutdown ends,” the FSA had on its website. “The original deadline was Jan. 15, 2019, but farmers have been unable to apply for the program since the lapse in federal funding caused the closure of the USDA FSA offices at the end of business on Dec. 28, 2018,” the statement on the website continued.
In addition, because of the shutdown, all commodity loan activity stopped as of Jan. 3. That stoppage includes loan activity conducted by DMAs, LSAs and CMAs.
There is also an impact for those that have farm-stored commodities pledged as collateral. Commodity Credit Corporation Collateral can be marketed (moved for purchase to a buyer) or the fed, with some limitations.
Loan repayments, loan disbursements, refunds and termination of transfers will not be processed, according to the agency.
The movement of collateral during the shutdown will be treated the same as loan collateral moved on a non-business day, the statement on the website continued.
In addition, the website advised that borrowers remitting payments, checks and money orders can be sent to the the local FSA office. The agency will credit the payments once the federal funding has been reinstated. The agency will use the postmark on the envelope as the received date of the payment. FSFL and Direct Loans will not be delinquent if the borrower is unable to make a payment due to the offices being closed because of the lack of federal funding.