Harlan farmer Mark Roemke says federal lawmakers must be trying to conserve energy because they’re doing a good job of keeping him in the dark.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Roemke said, referring to a lack of access to crucial agricultural data since the government shutdown. He farms 3,800 acres of corn and soybeans. “I’m clueless. I don’t know what China’s doing. I don’t know what the overall market is doing. This is hard on us.”
Growers and livestock producers rely on National Agriculture Statistics Service reports to make major decisions – which commodities to grow, when to take them to market, how to price crops and similar assessments.
Since the shutdown, however, the Statistics Service stopped putting out new reports about supply and demand. Even websites with past information have been taken down.
The situation is driving Allen County Farm Bureau president Roger Hadley crazy.
“It’s ridiculous, really,” he said. “They could have at least left the archives up. You don’t need staff to run that. It’s like they’re trying to cause as much suffering as they can to everybody.”
With the U.S. Agriculture Department’s local farm services offices also being closed, growers can’t apply for new loans, sign up acreages for government programs or receive government checks for programs they’re already enrolled in. And at a time when researchers who are seeking new wheat varieties and plant traits should be planting experimental plots, all work has ground to a halt.
And while there is some doubt about farmers’ annual government subsidy checks – growers in northeast Indiana usually get $15 to $18 per acre – those funds pale in comparison to the vital reports from the Statistics Service, Hadley said.
“That money isn’t something they’re sitting around waiting for,” he said of the checks that are supposed to be sent out this month. “They have other things on their minds.”
Fort Wayne farmer Randy Schaefer feels that way. Last summer, Schaefer dealt with drought conditions, even prompting a visit from a top Agriculture Department official. Now, he is contending with the shutdown but not dwelling on it.
“It’s in the furthest part of my mind because we’ve been so busy,” Schaefer said. He has 2,000 acres sprouting soybeans, wheat and corn. “At some point, I’ll start to decipher it, but not now.”
The longer the shutdown lasts, however, the worse it could get for farmers – and consumers.
“The horror for the producer would be if prices fall and they’re stuck with lower cash prices,” said David Kohli, an agriculture futures broker with Allendale Inc. in Fort Wayne.
“For consumers, they could have a dearth of products later, which cause prices to go higher.”
And, for now?
“Well, there’s not a lot of trading going on because nobody knows where the market is going to go,” Kohli said. “It’s pretty quiet.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.