USDA calls FSA employees back to work, restarts feed crop support apps

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

Feed crop producers are gaining a new chance to access financial support for export market disruption as FSA offices reopen and accept new Market Facilitation Program applications.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced​Tuesday [January 22] that it would be reopening all Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices Thursday [January 24] to provide a specific range of services to support feed and grain crop producers, farmers and ranchers. Previously, FSA facilities had been closed as part of the ongoing partial shutdown of several departments within the US government – including the USDA.

A selection of offices providing a limited range of services had been open for several days last week and those offices were open Tuesday. During that time, offices were focused on working with existing loans and tax issues but were not working with the Market Facilitation Program.

The American Soybean Association (ASA) told us previously that this is an important time of year for feed crop producers to have access to FSA services.

Producers may be seeking to seal grain bins as a way to finance crop inputs, said John Heisdorffer, chairman with the ASA. The practice also may help producers stretch out the selling period.

“We’ll be sealing the grain to borrow against for next year,”​ he told us when offices were initially reopened. “A lot of farmers would be going to go to the FSA offices.”

“It gives farmers an opportunity to get this done because we don’t know how long the shutdown will last and it opens the opportunity for a few days to get something done,”​ he added.

With the new reopening, more than 9,700 employees with FSA have been asked to return to work, the USDA said. “President Trump has already signed legislation that guarantees employees will receive all backpay missed during the lapse in funding,”​ the department added.

Going forward, the offices are set to be open for the next two weeks – from January 28 through February 8, the department said. Should the shutdown continue past that point, offices will open only for three days each week – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Shutdown overview

The US government has been in a partial shutdown for 33 days, or since late-December.

As there continue to be disagreements between legislative parties regarding a presidential request of more than $5bn in funding for a US-Mexico border wall, it is still not known when the shutdown will end.

The ongoing situation also means that about 800,000 federal employees are not being paid.

Market Facilitation Program restart

In addition to reopening FSA offices, Sonny Perdue, US secretary of agriculture, has established a new deadline for feed crop producers seeking to apply for the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) or have production amounts certified for that program, the USDA said.

The program​ was established in July 2018 to provide financial support to feed grain, crop and animal producers who were harmed by retaliatory tariffs places on products of US origin, the USDA said. It provides aid for corn, soybean, sorghum and wheat growers along with swine and dairy producers.

The original deadline for producers to apply for the MFP was January 15, however, that was extended to a period beyond the end of the partial federal shutdown, the department said. The program’s deadline has now been set for Thursday, February 14.

“At President Trump’s direction, we have been working to alleviate the effects of the lapse in federal funding as best we can, and we are happy to announce the reopening of FSA offices for certain services,” ​said Perdue in a statement about the reopening offices. “The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available.  We want to offer as much assistance as possible until the partial government shutdown is resolved.”

In addition to work with the market facilitation program, the offices will be able to work with producers on several programs including marketing assistance loans, direct and guaranteed farm operating loans and emergency loans, the USDA said.

The Office of Management and Budget and the USDA reviewed funding accounts before adding additional programs to the services that FSA will be able to address, the department said. Several accounts were not affected by the lapse in federal appropriation, including some of the FY 2018 Farm Bill activities.

The list also includes programs where the continued suspension would damage or prevent “execution of the terms of the underlying stator provision,”​ the department said.

Other programs or services that will be available to producers while offices are open include release of collateral warehouse receipts, the dairy margin protection program, agriculture risk coverage and price loss coverage, livestock forage disaster, emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish and the livestock indemnity program, the department said.

Employees also will be able to address the noninsured crop disaster assistance program and work with producers regarding wildfires and hurricanes indemnity program payments – but only for those already processed.

However, employees will not be able to provide some services while the offices are open, the department said.

Programs on that list include new conservation reserve contracts, the farm storage facility loan program, new direct or guaranteed farm ownership loans and new or in-progress wildfires and hurricanes indemnity program applications, the department said.

The emergency conservation program, biomass crop assistance program and grassroots source water protection program also will not be available.

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