Storm-weary Southern Farmers now face fresh economic fears amid a political storm which seems to have no end in sight. While there is no worry about wind or water this time, farmers still recovering from the impacts of Hurricanes Michael and Florence are now feeling the impact of the government shutdown.
It was anticipated that the new Farm Bill would offer hope for improving farming economies into 2019 — especially after major 2018 farm losses from natural disasters and the trade war. However, the government shutdown now in its 19th day has had a chilling effect on economic outlook and optimism for the new year. Farmers waiting for direct payments, market assistance loans, market facilitation payments and disaster assistance program payments, particularly in a time of farm crisis, are being left high and dry.
The unexpected disruption in government services means that farmers are looking for support and guidance from farm organizations like the Federation to help them stabilize their farms. The Federation’s Georgia Field Office which is typically busy providing technical assistance to farmers and helping with farm loan applications are getting phone calls from very worried farmers. Cornelius Key, the Federation’s Georgia State Coordinator, who is also a farmer and rancher says, “Small farmers that normally submit farm loan applications in December and January can’t submit loans at the moment. The shutdown will have a domino effect as it ultimately leads to a decreased harvest, greater farm debt, and loan defaults that could translate to land and farm losses.” As a leading non-profit cooperative association representing over 20,000 rural black farmers and landowners, cooperatives, credit unions, and community based economic development groups across the rural south, the Federation historically plays a pivotal advocacy role in bringing equity for black farmers and rural communities through many efforts.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of the Federation’s major partners supplying resources through various agencies including Natural Resource and Conservation Service, Rural Development, Farm Service Agency, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “While the government is shutdown, we are unable to access needed resources as part of our contracts and agreements with the USDA agencies and continue to provide valuable education, outreach, and technical assistance to our membership. The shutdown also makes it difficult to fulfill the financial obligations the Federation has to its staff, partners and vendors. We would like the President and Congress to understand the crippling effect of this shutdown,” Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation said.
No matter what side of the political fence one falls, farm and rural development advocates will agree that the shutdown will cause much harm if not resolved very soon. Ben Burkett, the Federation’s Mississippi State Coordinator, and a fourth-generation farmer states that ” The soybean farmers are anxiously awaiting delayed payments they were promised because of losses from the trade war. Farmers implementing conservation practices that allow them to manage their farms in the protection of air, water, and soil are delayed.”
The overall sentiment is hopeful while weathering this storm. For an organization that is 51 years old, this isn’t the worst the Federation has endured; but that all depends on how long this shutdown lasts and the economic impact it has on farms and rural communities.