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Farmers are uncertain what affect the gov­ernment shutdown will have in the coming weeks. Nicole Ault | Col­legian

The federal gov­ernment shutdown has closed part of the United States Department of Agri­culture office in Hillsdale County — cutting farmers off from financial and admin­is­trative ser­vices that will prove vital to decision making in the coming weeks.

“It makes us a lot more uncertain on what we’re doing,” said Scott Welden, a grain farmer in Jonesville. Though not dire at the moment, the problem will worsen in the next few weeks if the shutdown drags on, he said.

Located in Jonesville, the Hillsdale County USDA office holds the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Con­ser­vation Service. The FSA is closed during the shutdown while the NRCS remains fully open. NRCS employees are paid, and the center is oper­ating on prior years’ funds, according to Jason Wheeler, the dis­trict con­ser­va­tionist at NRCS. Wheeler said he does not know how much longer the office will stay open, however.

Farmers rely on the FSA for mul­tiple ser­vices, including yield reports, land reg­is­tration, low-interest loans, and other financial trans­ac­tions.

Farmers can’t get USDA reports on crop inventory and stocks from last year because of the shutdown, said Terry Finegan, board pres­ident of the Hillsdale County Farm Bureau. Without the reports, farmers are less certain of how to market and what to plant for the next harvest season; high inven­tories of a certain crop can lower its price.

Farmers also don’t have access to pay­ments from the Market Facil­i­tation Program, created by the Trump admin­is­tration to mit­igate the impact of tariffs on grain farmers and delivered through the FSA.

“That could be pretty sig­nif­icant on the income side,” Finegan said, noting that farmers could use the MFP cash to buy inputs such as seed and fer­tilizer. “It directly affects a lot of our decision making on our direction.”

There’s a “window” here, though; farmers usually start planting in April and “like to have stuff locked in” by the end of Feb­ruary, Finegan said.

Loans processed through the FSA are also on hold during the shutdown. Though most well-estab­lished farms receive loans through banks and aren’t affected, smaller farms don’t nec­es­sarily have that luxury.

“If you were a young farmer and you wanted to expand your farm here, then you might not be able to get that loan to buy property that you need or equipment that you need,” said Sarah Fronczak, envi­ron­mental man­agement edu­cator at the Michigan State Uni­versity Hillsdale County extension. “If they’re not estab­lished, then this is an important method for them to grow their business, and that’s pretty much unavailable right now.”

The USDA announced Wednesday that many FSA centers, including the one in Jonesville, will be open Jan. 17 – 18 and 22 for spe­cific financial activ­ities, including pro­cessing of pay­ments made by Dec. 31 and con­tinuing expiring financial state­ments. The department also states on its website that farmers who have loans due during the shutdown do not need to make pay­ments until it ends.

Dairy farmers, mean­while, are facing a hold-up on monthly Dairy Margin Cov­erage Program pay­ments that are processed through the FSA, said Car­leton Evans, who owns a farm in Litch­field and is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Milk Pro­ducers co-op.

“It’s not the end of the world, but right now the dairy market is really tight and any time you’re short dollars you were planning on, it’s going to upset your cash flow,” Evans said.

But the gov­ernment deemed critical the Federal Milk Mar­keting Order workers, who set milk prices, which is some­thing of a relief, Evans said.

The FSA also deals with reg­is­tration, acreage cer­ti­fi­cation, and con­tracts regarding land use, such as renting to tenants, said Mark Kies, who farms grains in northwest Hillsdale County. Even installing tile drainage requires FSA approval, Evans said.

Kies said he’s also con­cerned that, even if the shutdown ends before long, FSA employees may face a backlog of work that holds back ser­vices.

“We’re OK right now. There’s not a lot hap­pening that is a major decision,” Kies said. “But I’d say by the end of January or beginning of Feb­ruary… I think we’re gonna see some effect here in the next two to three weeks.”