The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 9, 2013

Shutdown affecting agricultural programs

By Budd McLaughlin
bud@athensnews-courier.com

— The government shutdown is a major issue for thousands of people in this area. But there is one segment where the shutdown is just another “thing” to deal with.

“Most of the farmers are so busy with the harvest, this is secondary to them,” said Max Runge, economist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “But if it lasts long, they will get concerned.”

What they will get concerned about are the futures markets for their crops, such as corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and peanuts.

Runge said the corn harvest is through, the farmers are “digging out” the peanuts and the cotton is about to be harvested. “It’s not totally critical right now.”

The prices won’t fluctuate as much over the next week or so but if the shutdown — which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture — stretches into the end of the month or longer, there could be trouble. USDA staff take surveys to help provide reports on acreages and production.

Though the corn and soybeans in Alabama don’t have a real effect on the market — “some counties in Iowa do more (corn production) than this entire state,” Runge said — the information from these reports are used to help set prices and give guidance on what, where and when farmers should plant.

“The affect is mainly from the marketing side,” Runge said. “The farmers should watch their costs, know their expenses. And price accordingly.”

He said some farmers could be affected by a delay in claims for cost-share payments. Cost-share programs cover a variety of issues from organic certification to conservation practices, such as grass waterways or fencing to keep livestock out of creeks, he said.

“Producers agree to adopt/install these practices and a portion of the cost is reimbursed by USDA,” Runge said. “Some are waiting on their cost-share payments,” which could be several thousand dollars per farm.

He also said the shutdown has contributed to a lack of action on the 2013 Farm Bill — a Senate version passed in June and awaits action in the House. The legislation, which is passed about every five years by Congress, affects commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, marketing and other federal agriculture policy issues.

“It’s unknown if or when it will pass or will there be a continuing resolution,” Runge said. “It’s just another level of uncertainty.”