Farmers and ranchers lose vital support during shutdown

The funding stalemate has halted Department of Agriculture programs that the rural West relies on.


Dena Hoff is unable to plan for the year ahead without global commodity price reports and crop reserve information usually supplied by the USDA.
Northern Plains Resource Council

Editor's note: On Jan. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in a that almost half of its Farm Service Agency offices would reopen and provide limited services, including existing loans, to farmers and ranchers. The 2,500 USDA staffers returning to work remain unpaid. 

The West’s farmers had plenty to worry about before the government shutdown.

“There are so many uncertainties already,” explained Dena Hoff, who raises sheep and grows beans, corn and tomatoes outside Glendive, Montana. Farmers, she said, already contend with unknowns like “weather craziness,” climate change, and poor markets. Now, as the partial shutdown plods into its fourth week, farmers and ranchers across the West find themselves facing one more uncertainty: whether they can keep relying on key U.S. Department of Agriculture services.

For example, nearly 35,000 farms received loans last year from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to buy land, seed, livestock and other vital supplies. The FSA provided nearly $2.2 billion in direct and guaranteed loans for farm operations in the 2018 fiscal year, according to department data. But with thousands of local offices shuttered across the country, FSA money is currently unavailable. The USDA has also halted rural development loans, and grants for everything from affordable housing to rural broadband internet infrastructure.

There is never a good time for an extended government shutdown, but the beginning of the year is especially poor for farmers Hoff said. USDA provides up-to-date global commodity reports on agriculture and livestock prices that farmers use to time spring planting and make production decisions for the year to come. But with the USDA shut down, that information is unavailable.

“By not having those reports, it’s really hard to make decisions,” said Hoff, a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, an agriculture non-profit advocacy group.

Even before the shutdown, Western farmers were feeling the squeeze from tariffs levied on U.S. commodities – including soy, corn, and pork – spurred by the Trump administration’s tariff fights with Canada, China and Mexico. The administration pledged $12 billion to compensate farmers and ranchers hurt by the trade wars, but the shutdown has delayed those payments, and the deadline to apply for aid lapsed on Jan. 15. USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue that the agency would extend the application deadline for as long as the Farm Service Agency offices have been closed — once the government re-opens.

Making matters worse is the stalled rollout of the 2018 Farm Bill, wide-ranging legislation that includes funding for farmland conservation, drinking water protections, crop insurance and forest management, along with dozens of other programs such as subsidy programs for struggling farms.

If the stalemate continues, the lack of USDA services will be felt across the country, far beyond Western farming communities: , the agency is paying out February’s food stamp benefits on Jan. 20, and the nearly 40 million Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will need to make them last for six weeks. It is unclear if March benefits would be distributed is the shutdown drags on.

Tangerine harvest at Churchill Farm, California.

Last week, the Democratic majority in the House passed a measure that would fund the USDA, as well as several separate spending bills to reopen other government agencies. But President Donald Trump has refused to consider any move to end the partial shutdown unless the federal budget includes $5.7 billion for his long-desired border wall, a non-starter for Democratic leadership.

Stalled USDA rural loans have become a bipartisan concern. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he has urged Purdue to continue issuing loans while the government is shut down, while Democratic New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich stressed the USDA’s importance to farmers and ranchers in an .

But in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Trump claimed a mandate from farmers to continue the shutdown until he receives congressional funding for the wall. Farmers, he declared, consider the shutdown “of paramount importance," for national security.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., shot back promptly, calling the speech “empty words” and urging the President to sign the USDA spending bill.

As politicians argue, the West’s farmers suffer real damages. People have already been hurt – and that will continue until the shutdown ends, Hoff said.

‘I think it’s just another example of capricious decisions made by people who didn’t give a thought to impacts of this shutdown would have on rural America,” she said.

Nick Bowlin is an editorial intern at NewTowncarShare News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • The West Region Wildfire Council ( is a regional wildfire organization that promotes wildfire adaptation, preparedness and mitigation education across Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray...
  • The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • The Yellowstone River Field Institute is an intensive week-long field course for multimedia storytellers, working journalists, and students of journalism, offered by the Montana-based Freeflow...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Baltimore Green Space (BGS) is Baltimore's environmental land trust. We promote vibrant neighborhoods and a healthy environment through land preservation, research, and community advocacy. We...
  • Northwest Natural Resource Group seeks forester based in Seattle or Olympia area to manage our ecological forestry harvest program. Full description at
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking an experienced Policy Analyst or Senior Analyst to develop and advocate for policies and mechanisms that promote the development...
  • from a beautiful log home. 20-acre private parcel in the sunny Okanogan of WA. Visit: Inquiries: [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates is looking for a VP of Programs and Strategy to bring a strategic focus to the development of multi-faceted advocacy plans that...
  • Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for Curator of Natural Science. Seeking...
  • in Southwest Colorado. $60K plus costs.
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.