As loans and aid dry up, U.S. farmers face fresh challenge from shutdown


P.J. Huffstutter, Reuters†

January 3, 2019


CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. farmers, already battered by the U.S.-China trade war, are facing increasing anxiety as the partial government shutdown nears the two-week mark, leaving crucial aid and loan payments in limbo.


The shutdown has blocked assistance for many farmers, who at this time of year apply for federal loans as they pay bills due from the previous year and begin budgeting for next seasonís planting. It is also affecting aid payments promised to allay the effects of the trade war.


The timing is particularly bad for U.S. farmers, who are already suffering the fallout from the trade warís raised tariffs and low prices for a top export crop, soybeans, with purchases by China lagging previous years.


ďItís just bad news on top of everything right now,Ē said Brian Duncan, whose family farms corn and soybeans and raises hogs in northwestern Illinois.


The partial shutdown was triggered last month by President Donald Trumpís demand for $5 billion to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives have vowed to fund the government through legislation, but Trump has insisted that any measure to fully reopen the government include wall money.


Pressure on Trump and lawmakers to end the partial shutdown is growing from the agricultural sector. Many of the nationís 3.2 million farmers and ranchers are Republicans, and have been steadfastly loyal to the president. But some farmers have warned their support for a Trump campaign in 2020 is not guaranteed if the farm economy worsens and trade disputes continue to threaten demand for U.S. crops.


About a quarter of the federal government, or 800,000 workers - including some from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - are off the job.


The USDAís Farm Service Agency (FSA) managers and supervisors were instructed to cancel all previously arranged loan closings when the shutdown started, according to the agencyís shutdown plan posted online. Agency officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.


Commodity traders and farmers alike are also growing nervous that the USDA will also push back or possibly cancel a slew of global supply and demand grain reports set for release on Jan. 11. The data is watched by farmers when making their planting plans.