Shutdown spawns vacuum in farm market information

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 7, 2013 at 7:18 am •  Published: October 7, 2013
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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — 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 to 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.

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.

"It is causing a direct void in information that is immediate," Peterson said.

This worries him far more than his other problem: When will his $20,000 subsidy check from the government, which usually comes in October, arrive?

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.

Kansas Farmer's Union president Donn Teske, a grower in the northeast Kansas town of Wheaton, worried about payments he's owed for idling some environmentally sensitive land under the Conservation Reserve Program.

"I always look forward to that check coming in the mail," the 58-year-old said.

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.

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