AgWatch


Government Shutdown Ends, Now What?

SARA WYANT

WASHINGTON, D.C.
   A host of departments and agencies critical to U.S. agriculture – including USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency – are moving back into full swing, now that the five-week partial government shutdown has come to at least a temporary end. 
   Under an agreement reached Jan. 25 between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats, USDA, the Interior Department, FDA, EPA and other departments and agencies for which fiscal 2019 spending bills have not been enacted yet will be funded through Feb. 15 by a continuing resolution. During the next three weeks, negotiations on how to fund border security and key government functions will continue.
   Trump said that if he doesn’t get a “fair deal” on his demands for border wall funding, the government will either shut down again after Feb. 15 or he will declare a national emergency to fund the wall expansion. “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said.
   Trump also said workers in the affected departments and agencies would receive their back pay “as soon as possible.” They will have missed two straight biweekly paychecks as of Friday.
   Following the president’s announcement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement thanking the “thousands of USDA workers who stayed on the job to offer as many of our normal activities as we could.” 
   He said the department “will prepare for a smooth reestablishment of USDA functions.” During the shutdown, the agency had already extended signup for the Market Facilitation Program payments until Feb. 14 and opened Farm Service Agency offices on a temporary basis. 
   The shutdown stalled implementation of the farm bill, and starting Dec. 22, closed much of USDA except for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, whose meat and poultry inspectors are required during government shutdowns, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which had been paying staff through program funding.
   One of the first orders of business at USDA will be to jump-start efforts on implementing the new farm bill. 
   After the continuing resolution was signed, the president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Association, Jim Mulhern, sent a letter to Perdue urging him to quickly implement the newly overhauled commodity support program for dairy producers, Dairy Margin Coverage. The program's expanded coverage, which is targeted at smaller producers, is effective as of Jan. 1, but the department still must hold a sign up for the program, which was included in the 2018 farm bill enacted just before the shutdown began in December. 
   A USDA spokesman says DMC will be a priority for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 
   Another major priority at USDA will be to get the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report out on schedule Feb. 8, government sources tell Agri-Pulse. The January report was cancelled due to the shutdown.
   Other reports like Crop Production will also be coming out, but specific dates have not been set, sources say.
   The USDA failed to produce dozens of reports that farmers and ranchers depend on for market information since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, but none was missed more than WASDE, says Veronica Nigh, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
   “The report would have contained updated expectations on supply and use for grains, oilseeds and cotton for the 2017/2018 marketing year for both the U.S. and international markets,” she said in a blog post. “While the industry probably has a good handle on the U.S. numbers at this point in the marketing year, foreign production and demand is a different story.”
   And it’s not just USDA that has been delayed from enacting major new rules. Some major regulatory actions announced before the shutdown have yet to be formally posted in the Federal Register, an action necessary for agencies to move forward with development and implementation of rules. 
   Among those delayed rules: The administration’s proposed new “waters of the U.S.” rule, which would re-define what wetlands, streams and ditches are regulated under the Clean Water Act. A public hearing on that WOTUS proposal was supposed to be held last week but had to be postponed.  
   In addition, Environmental Protection Agency officials are still working to finalize a proposed rule for year-round e15 blended fuels so that it’s ready for motorists by the start of the summer driving season. ∆
   Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse Executive Editor Philip Brasher contributed to this report. 
   SARA WYANT: Editor of Agri-Pulse, a weekly e-newsletter covering farm and rural policy. To contact her, go to: http://www.agri-pulse.com/

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