Shutdown won't hurt ranchers... for now

Oct 7, 2013

The American Farm Bureau’s director for public policy says the federal government’s shutdown should not immediately impact the nation’s farmers and ranchers, but if it goes beyond a few days, their frustration and inconvenience could turn into serious problems.

During a telephone interview with the Western Livestock Journal, Dale Moore said the shutdown’s short-term impact will be negligible. “You won’t have the banker about ready to take the farm,” he said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak has determined that ensuring food safety and conducting meat inspections are essential federal functions that must be maintained despite the gridlock in Washington. Without meat inspections, however, beef and poultry processing would shut down.

“That did not have an impact as it could have relative to livestock or poultry going to market or slaughter,” Moore said Wednesday, Oct. 2. “Meat inspection continues. If it carries on beyond that, then you start getting into more impacts on producers. Right now it’s hard to quantify. I can’t put a finger on it right now.”

While a few ranchers and farmers in the country may have been immediately affected pertaining to Natural Resources Conservation Service range or forage issues or Farm Service Agency-related grain transactions, the industry at large was not initially hurt by the federal shutdown, he said.

“There’s no impact unless one is waiting for a permit approval or some kind of response from the Forest Service, depending on whose land you’re grazing,” Moore said.

“The rancher could be in a frustrating situation if a guy’s waiting to get word from the BLM or Forest Service before he can turn his cows out. If they are already out on the range, it’s not as if they’re telling them the range land or Forest Service is closed. Federal land issues, however, can get squirrelly in a hurry.”

Moore said he has not heard feedback from numerous western state producers who have cattle or sheep on federal lands, but that could change in a week if the shutdown persists. Any programs with appropriated dollars could be shut down.

“If it starts getting into a week or so, that can cause issues. … If it gets beyond a week, I can’t tell specifically where the impact starts hitting the first or hardest. … Folks can kind of hold their breath for a few days. Beyond that, it starts interfering with your ability to finish this year’s harvest.”

Reuters reported if the U.S. government shutdown continues for more than a few days, commodity markets will find themselves running blind, as federal employees responsible for producing statistics on which traders and investors rely are furloughed.

“The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said Tuesday it will not publish the commitments of traders and other market reports during the shutdown, depriving participants in the world’s biggest derivative markets for energy and agricultural products of price-moving information about the positions of other producers, consumers and speculators.”

Out of 680 CFTC employees, only 28 are exempted from federal layoffs, enough to provide “a bare minimum level of oversight and surveillance,” according to a commission shutdown plan sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The federal government’s entire commodity data publication program will cease if the shutdown lasts more than 10 days, Reuters said.

Moore was chief of staff with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington from 2001 to 2008. He said the shutdown will have a significant impact on the USDA, with the exception of those individuals considered essential personnel.

“USDA personnel are essentially furloughed. It’s a forced vacation or furlough. They’re not paid. The longer this goes on, each day is unpaid leave.”

If the federal shutdown goes beyond a week, it goes beyond frustration and inconvenience and “starts sucking pennies, dimes and dollars out of pockets,” Moore said. “By Monday if this thing is not resolved, we will start hearing from farmers and ranchers across the country.”

The American Farm Bureau sincerely hopes the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and President Obama “collectively get together and figure out how to get this issue resolved because it also is holding up their ability to move forward on other legislation important to farmers and ranchers,” Moore said.

The Farm Bureau also anticipates U.S. Senate and House conferees can work out their differences and draft a non-partisan Farm Bill and get it enacted within at least a month “if everybody else in Congress will let the House and Senate work out their differences and do what they do very well— compromise,” he said.

Because of the federal shutdown, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service postponed public hearings to take comments on its recently proposed Endangered Species Act rule to list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies in the Southwest and to delist the gray wolf elsewhere. The hearings were set for Wednesday, Oct. 2, in Sacramento and Friday, Oct. 4, in Albuquerque. Another hearing in Denver set for Oct. 17 is still scheduled, but that hinges on the shutdown’s conclusion. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent