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Government Shutdown: Coming to a Farm Near You
With the potential government shutdown looming closer and closer, many people far outside of DC are wondering what the government shutdown will mean for their daily lives. While farmers may be miles from DC, many rely on the government for technical and financial assistance, particularly those who are trying to implement wildlife-friendly farming practices. So, what does a shutdown mean for your local farm?
With Department of Agriculture (USDA) staff sent home while the government is closed for business, a number of programs vital to the protection of natural resources on farms and ranches across the country will be delayed this year, and quite possibly severely reduced. Farmers turn to USDA for programs that help them pay for and implement practices that conserve natural resources, such as soil and water, and protect these resources from pollution that can occur from conventional farming practices.
In the event of a government shutdown, farmers and landowners will face the following impacts:
- Sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program, a vital program that protects highly erodible land and lands still in native ecosystems, would not occur during a shutdown. With the April 15th sign-up deadline only a week away, the timing could not be worse.
- Contract processing through the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Organic Initiative of the Environmental Quality Improvement Program will be delayed until government reopens. Both programs help farmers with cost-share assistance and technical guidance to implement conservation practices on operating farms and farmland.
For either sign-up or contract processing, a delay caused by government shutdown would render many farmers unable to participate in these programs, even though these programs are funded through the Farm Bill. The longer shutdown lasts, the less likely farmers will be to sign up for these programs when the opportunity occurs, since many will have to make planting and land management decisions in time for spring.
For farmers who care about conservation, this is the worst possible time for a government shutdown.
What does this mean for wildlife?
If Congress cannot agree on a budget:
- Fragile native ecosystems such as grasslands may be converted to cropland
- Many farmers will not be able to implement practices to protect water quality or wildlife habitat
- Organic farmers relying on government programs to help them transition to organic production will be left in the lurch.
While a government shutdown may last only a few days or weeks, the vital services NOT provided by federal agencies to farmers and landowners during that time will result in significant and lasting consequences for farm profitability, wildlife habitat, and water quality.