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Shutdown Ends, Federal Agencies Get Back to Business

Groups say farm bill should be on list of 'to-dos'; USDA will push hard to catch up

Published on: Oct 18, 2013

With the lights back on at USDA offices and previously furloughed federal workers on the clock, farm groups are ready for legislators to get back in the farm bill saddle now that funding measures are off the table.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the end of the shutdown was promising for farmers, who have both been without "critical services for far too long." Also promising was President Obama's Thursday morning mention of finishing a farm bill during his national address, Johnson said.

"Now that conferees have been named, it is time for the committee to get down to business and take action to bring certainty to our family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural residents and hungry neighbors," he said, noting that his organization will urge lawmakers to avoid repealing permanent law.

Groups say farm bill should be on list of to-dos; USDA will push hard to catch up
Groups say farm bill should be on list of 'to-dos'; USDA will push hard to catch up

President Obama, while short in his comments, called for "long-term certainty" for farmers and ranchers through a five-year farm bill.

The President also singled out House Republicans, noting, "If House Republicans have ideas that they think would improve the farm bill, let's see them.  Let's negotiate.  What are we waiting for?  Let's get this done."

The House Committee on Agriculture fired back a statement following the speech, pointing out that they are making some progress – the House last Friday named conferees to hash out a final bill with the Senate, and expect the first formal meeting is when the House and Senate are in session together.

Ethanol groups want answers on leaked EPA docs

Also a delayed reaction following the return from shutdown, ethanol group Growth Energy suggested that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission follow up on Environmental Protection Agency documents that were leaked last week. The documents suggested that Renewable Fuel Standard volumes would be drastically reduced next year.

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Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, said the investigation should "determine if this was an attempt to manipulate markets such as corn futures, ethanol futures and/or RINS markets," adding that the process to authorize volume standards for next year was effectively frozen by the shutdown.

He, too, called for a new five-year farm bill with a "strong bioenergy title."

Agencies back to business

As Congress grapples with a wide-ranging list of problems to solve following the shutdown, so do federal agencies.

USDA employees, for example, were back to work Thursday morning, a noticeable change for markets and economists that have been awaiting several postponed grain and livestock reports.

Those reports, however, will be permanently cancelled, USDA said Thursday morning. That includes the October 11 World Agricultural Supply and Demand report, as well as the Crop Production and Cotton Ginnings reports that were scheduled for the same day.

USDA has never totally cancelled a crop production report in its history.

NASS's Crop Progress reports scheduled for October 7th and 15th were also cancelled, USDA said, while NASS's Cattle on Feed and Peanut Prices reports scheduled for October 18th are postponed.

"Basically, we don't have the data," said the Ag Statistics Service's Joe Prusacki. He also noted that data selection for the October farmer survey began, but was never completed.

"We're going through everything just trying to figure out what we can do and what we can't do," he said.

Meanwhile, over the next couple of days, USDA will be working through an expected backlog of reports following early October's blizzard in South Dakota that claimed the lives of thousands of head of beef cattle and sheep.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a USDA interview Thursday that while there is work to be done, he's happy that folks are back.

"I think we recognize here at USDA and now perhaps the rest of the country recognizes the important work that gets done by folks that work at the USDA," Vilsack said. "It's going to take a couple of days obviously for us to get back into a rhythm."