October 3, 2013

Cass farmers, state ag department adapt to shutdown

Service center employees working outside offices

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — An absence of agricultural services provided by the federal government — some more adaptable than others, — is affecting how Cass County farmers are harvesting through the shutdown that continued Wednesday in Washington, D.C., those in the industry said.

Offices of the Farm Service Agency, under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have been closed because of the federal government shutdown.

Programs offered by the agency provide incentives to farmers in exchange for compliance with certain guidelines. Farmers submit information about their operations to their nearest agency office, where employees determine farmers' eligibility.

Karl Eshelman, co-owner of Eshelman Farms in Walton, which grows corn and soybeans, said the business benefits from Farm Service Agency programs. However, with no one at the office to answer the phones or reply to emails, he said he is in the dark as far as knowing when upcoming deadlines to file paperwork will be.

"I have things in motion right now that have deadlines on them at the end of October and I'm going to have to have a ruling on them, so I don't know if they're going to continue deadlines because of the shutdown or throw them away or how they'll handle them," Eshelman said. "It has pretty far-reaching implications."

Missing deadlines can lead to penalties, Eshelman said, and even result in being removed from programs.

"I don't know if it's going to happen, but they're things I worry about," Eshelman said.

Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Gina Sheets said like the farmers who continue to work through the shutdown, so too are employees of now-closed U.S. Department of Agriculture service centers across the state, including Farm Service Agencies.

Sheets said employees of these service centers, in preparation for a possible shutdown, were able to take essential equipment and files from their offices before the shutdown went into effect in order to work outside of the office.

"We were prepared to be proactive," Sheets said.

All of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's commodity reporting has been suspended because of the shutdown as well.

While the market insight in these reports isn't being provided by the federal government for the time being, farmers can still find the relevant information with a little extra work, Sheets said.

"They can be creative and still call other sales and auction facilities," Sheets said.

That's exactly what Dave Forgey, a dairy farmer who co-owns Forgey and Foerg River-View Farm Inc., west of Logansport, is doing.

"For us, we look at [the reports] each day just to get an idea of where the market is trending," Forgey said. "It doesn't necessarily establish a price for us. We still have to go to the market to get a price established. With the communication the markets have between themselves, I don't really believe it's going to have much concern."

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK