WICHITA, Kan. — When Tim Peterson finished planting his 900 acres of winter wheat last week, the usually market-savvy Kansas farmer unexpectedly found himself struggling to make critical marketing decisions without being able to access vital agricultural reports, casualties of the federal government shutdown.
“We have no clue what is going on in the market,” said Peterson, who farms near Monument in northwest Kansas. He typically protects his investment in seed and fertilizer by “locking in” the price his wheat crop will fetch next July with a futures contract that shields farmers from market fluctuations by guaranteeing a price while the crop is in the ground.
During the shutdown, the USDA won't provide sales reports from Oklahoma livestock auctions that are used to help set prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, state Department of Agriculture employee Jack Carson said.
“We are working. They are not,” Carson said.
Farmers and livestock producers use the reports put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service to make decisions — such as how to price crops, which commodities to grow and when to sell them — as well as track cattle auction prices. Not only has the NASS stopped putting out new reports about demand and supply, exports and prices, but all websites with past information have been taken down.
Since the U.S. Agriculture Department's local farm services offices also have been shuttered, farmers 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.
But all of that, farmers say, pales in comparison to the lack of agriculture reports, because farmers today depend far more on global marketplaces than government payouts.
The reports, for instance, can alert them to shortfalls in overseas markets or if there's a wide swing in acres planted, both of which would prompt U.S. growers to plant extra crops to meet those demands or hang on to a harvest longer to get a better price.
“That information is worth a lot of money,” Peterson said.
Major commodity players can pay for crop size estimates usually provided in the government reports from “private sources,” said Dalton Henry, director of governmental affairs for the industry group Kansas Wheat. “Producers aren't going to have that same luxury,” he said.
The shutdown came just as the current farm bill expired. Farm subsidies remain intact for crops being harvested. Crop insurance, funded under a permanent authorization, is mostly unaffected.
The expiration of the law won't have an impact until the end of the year, when some dairy supports end and milk prices are expected to rise sharply.
“Farmers, all of those impacted, have been waiting and waiting and waiting. And frankly have had enough,” said Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., last week. “They want this to get done.”
The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com are unable to publish state grain and livestock prices during the federal government shutdown, which has stopped the U.S. Department of Agriculture from issuing the daily information. When the USDA begins producing the numbers again, those figures will reappear in the newspaper and on the website.