No disaster relief for growers during US government shutdown

The current partial US government shutdown, which began on December 22, has still not been resolved and federal agencies continue to operate with lean staff or not at all. The main problem for growers is the complete shutdown of the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). The agency administers many different federal agricultural programs, including energy programs, insurances, farm loan programs, as well as disaster relief.

According to Steven Callaham of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association in Florida, the shutdown will only further delay the appropriation of funds for disaster relief, of which many Florida growers still haven't received for Hurricane Irma.

"Our local USDA Farm Service Agency county offices closed on December 28th and will not reopen until the government is fully operational," Callaham said. "These offices are responsible for processing the grower applications for disaster assistance via the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (2017 WHIP). 2017 WHIP provides disaster payments to agricultural producers to offset losses from hurricanes, such as Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, as well as devastating wildfires during 2017. Many Florida growers still have not received the assistance they desperately need to help them recover from the damages they suffered in 2017 from Hurricane Irma."

H-2A applications okay - for now
It's a critical time of the year for many US growers when it comes to H-2A temporary visa applications. To avoid any delays during the busier summer months, many of the growers that will need H-2A labor typically deal with their paperwork at the start of the year. The good news is that federal funds have been allocated to the Department of Labor - the agency that processes H-2A visas - for the next few months. Still, many opt to fund it themselves in order to better guarantee a workforce come harvest time.

"H-2A workers are vital for us to be able to harvest our peaches in the summer," shared Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms in Colorado. "Fortunately, our H2-A applications are cash funded rather than government funded. Therefore we have not experienced any delays."

However, it doesn't mean the shutdown has not affected them. "The FSA is closed and this will impact us at some point," Talbott added. "Additionally, I was scheduled to attend the USDA Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee's January meeting, however it has been indefinitely postponed. The committee usually meets twice per year to develop recommendations for submission to the Secretary of Agriculture."

No impact on borders
Growers and importers that ship produce from offshore have not felt any effect as yet. Border inspections and customs procedures are considered 'essential services' and thus remain fully funded. So far, there have been no reports of any problems or even delays in regards to the importing and exporting of produce.

"At this time of year, we import our watermelons from Mexico," said Scott McDulin of Schmieding Produce. "We have seen no effects yet and there have not been any issues with shipping our produce."

Growers remain wary of what will be in store for them should the shutdown persist. If it continues, progressively more services and more staff will be temporarily cut as federal funding starts to dry up.

For more information:
Steven Callaham
Dundee Citrus Growers Association
Ph: +1 (863) 439-1574

Bruce Talbott
Talbott Farms
Ph: +1 (970) 464-5656

Scott McDulin
Schmieding Produce
Ph: +1 (561) 319-2748

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