Ag Policy Blog

USDA Deadlines and Prospects of a Government Shutdown

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I keep hearing from others on our editorial staff that we should once again alert readers that the Farm Service Agency deadline is Sept. 30 to complete the sign up process for Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage.

I generally chuckle dismissively because I know our readers understand the intricacies of farm programs and know Sept. 30 is the deadline for signing enrollment contracts in the programs for 2015.

A DTN reader knows to deal with those local FSA offices long before the signup deadline, much like an income-tax preparer has his or her income taxes completed long before the last week of filing season. However, even our readers have less-astute relatives or neighbors who may not think as far ahead and may need a final, final, final reminder that Sept. 30 is the signup deadline.

Farmers made their selection of commodity programs last spring, but that was a two-step process. Farmers also need to complete the process by signing enrollment contracts for 2015 by the end of the day, Sept. 30.

Unless, of course, there is an extension. Dairy farmers got an extension to sign up for Dairy Margin Protection Program for coverage in 2016. USDA extended signup until Nov. 20. Again, that was probably needed for those non-DTN dairy operators out there.

Another critical reason not wait until Oct. 1 is that Congress might opt to amuse us all with another government shutdown. You know the drill. There will be a flurry of bounce back-and-forth votes next week in Congress, likely right up to about 11:30 p.m. or so on next Wednesday, Sept. 30. It's a toss-up. They could get an extension to fight out the budget fight in December. Or, a senator could decide to regale everyone on C-SPAN with an hours-long diatribe about everything wrong in government and opt to shut it down just to generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A spokeswoman for USDA didn't want to detail any contingency about a shutdown. A statement from the department on Wednesday called on Congress to fund the government. However, the federal government is again pulling out the shutdown procedures.

“The Administration strongly believes that a lapse in appropriations should not occur. There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and the Administration is willing to accept a clean, short-term continuing resolution to fund Government operations and allow Congress more time to negotiate an agreement that invests in middle-class economic priorities and helps our entire economy grow," according to the USDA statement.

In 2013, USDA closed down all Farm Service Agency offices. However, the agency can continue to use "remaining discretionary prior year unobligated balances (carryover, within authorized apportionment unless the debt ceiling is reached)" and user fees collected under the U.S. Warehouse Act.

Under a shutdown, USDA will not release any new production statistics, most of the rest of USDA will shut down and its website may go dark.

Meat, poultry and egg product inspections will continue. USDA noted in 2013 that 87% of the agency's 9,600 or so employees would still be on the job during a shutdown.

The situation at the Agricultural Marketing Service is complicated because some AMS programs are funded through user fees and will continue to operate while others are funded through appropriations and will not.

Other USDA programs would remain open because they are not funded through appropriations. Those would include dairy grading, cotton classing and grading, tobacco inspections, specialty crop inspections and meat grading.

The 2013 government shutdown went until Oct. 17. Most commodity and conservation programs checks expected to go out in early October were delayed until the week of Oct. 24. That is something to keep in mind if you are counting on a commodity or conservation check arriving in October.

Again, FSA offices would not be open Oct. 1 IF the federal government shuts down. So, just because Congress will again miss yet another annual Sept. 30 budget deadline, that doesn't mean farmers want to overlook that Sept. 30 deadline to finish ARC-PLC enrollment signups.

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