USDA back to work, but crop reports canceled in aftermath of shutdown

Oct 21, 2013

USDA office doors opened last Thursday after the House and Senate passed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 late Wednesday evening.

The White House said President Obama had signed the funding bill from Congress, which ended a 16- day stalemate and will fund the government through Jan. 15, and gives Obama authority to increase the $16.7 trillion debt limit until Feb. 7.

“We’ve been locked in a fight over here, trying to bring government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told a Cincinnati radio station. “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”

Obama sent out a press statement Thursday, saying there were “no winners” in the agreement.

“Because Democrats and responsible Republicans came together, the first government shutdown in 17 years is now over. The first default in more than 200 years will not happen,” he wrote.

He went on to share three key areas that he plans to focus on—a balanced budget, immigration reform and a farm bill.

“We should pass a farm bill, one that American farmers and ranchers can depend on; one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need; one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the long-term certainty that they deserve,” he continued.

His written speech was full of hints aimed at the GOP and the escalating friction between the two parties.

“Again, the Senate has already passed a solid bipartisan bill. It’s got support from Democrats and Republicans. It’s sitting in the House waiting for passage. If House Republicans have ideas that they think would improve the farm bill, let’s see them. Let’s negotiate.”

USDA will be playing catch up now, and is expected to update farmers on the status of delayed Direct Payment checks and Conservation Reserve Program checks.

The White House Office of Management and Budget issued orders to federal employees stating, “All employees who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations may now return to work. You should reopen offices in a prompt and orderly manner.”

Following the Senate’s 81-18 vote and the House’s 285 to 144 vote, President Obama shared his thoughts on the farm bill.

“In fact, there are things that we know will help strengthen our economy that we could get done before this year is out. We still need to pass a law to fix our broken immigration system. We still need to pass a farm bill,” Obama said. “And with the shutdown behind us and budget committees forming, we now have an opportunity to focus on a sensible budget that is responsible, that is fair and that helps hardworking people all across this country.”

The resolution funds all government departments, but contained several provisions of particular interest to rural America. It also contains a provision to pay all federal employees for the 16 days they were forced to stay away from work during the government shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB) have canceled or postponed publication of selected USDA statistical reports impacted by the lapse in federal funding.

NASS’s Crop Production and Cotton Ginnings reports and the WAOB’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) scheduled for Oct. 11th are canceled. The next scheduled release for these reports is Nov. 8, 2013. Additionally, NASS’s Crop Progress reports scheduled for Oct. 7 and 15 are canceled. NASS’s Cattle on Feed and Peanut Prices reports scheduled for Oct. 18 are postponed.

While the lapse in federal funding has ended, NASS has not been able to engage in the necessary data collection and analysis over the past few weeks, the agency said. NASS is assessing its data collection plans and evaluating the timing of upcoming reports.

USDA did not say whether the Crop Progress report next week is canceled.

Despite the loss of data, ag groups are hopeful that business can return as normal.

“This is good news for family farmers, ranchers and rural residents who were left without critical services for far too long,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson.

“It was promising to hear President Obama mention specifically the unfinished business that is the farm bill in his address to the nation last night. Now that conferees have been named, it is time for the committee to get down to business and take action to bring certainty to our family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural residents and hungry neighbors,” Johnson added.

During the government shutdown, there was some progress made toward the farm bill with the House appointing conferees on Oct. 11.

While the Senate conferees had been named prior to the shutdown, the House approved to finally open discussion with a 223-189 vote and approved a resolution urging conferees to support a Senate measure that would limit crop insurance subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more.

House members who will serve on the conference committee were appointed Oct. 12 and include 12 members of the House Agriculture Committee.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D- MN) were appointed by their respective party leaders in the House to work on the conference committee. Republicans will have 17 representatives on the committee, and Democrats will have 12.

“I am pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process where we are about to begin negotiations with our friends in the Senate and put a final bill together. This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture all across the country. There are challenging issues yet to overcome, but we have a solid team of negotiators in place. I am confident we can reach consensus and send a fiveyear farm bill to the president,” Lucas said.

“Appointing conferees might be a sign that, after repeatedly delaying and undermining the Agriculture Committee’s work, Republican leaders are finally getting serious about the farm bill. Conferees are committed to working together and getting a farm bill done, but bringing divisive resolutions to a vote and appointing conferees outside the Agriculture Committee has made our jobs a lot harder,” Peterson said.

“The Democratic conferees represent our caucus and bring a great deal of expertise to the process. I am hopeful that if Republican leadership can be reasonable and leave the conference committee alone to do its work that we will be able to finish a five-year, comprehensive farm bill this year,” Peterson added.

Following the conferee appointments, critics were quick to voice concern over the large size and makeup of the committee. In addition to members of the Agriculture Committee, House conferees include members of the Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means committees.

Discussions are expected to start this week. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor