Farm Service Agency offices work to process thousands of applications before Feb. 14 deadline

Farm Service Agency offices work to process thousands of applications before Feb. 14 deadline

From the Tribune special report: La Crosse area farmers struggle amid tough economic times series
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Hundreds of Minnesota farmers applied for Farm Service Agency loans, and 50,000 to 60,000 applied for Market Facilitation Program payments since the government reopened last month.

As of Friday, Joe Martin, state executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Minnesota, estimated that the office received about 200 FSA loan applications and that number is growing by the day, he said.

“Some [loans] are pretty straightforward and may process in a few days, but others may require additional information consultation and questions about balance sheets and cash flows,” said Martin, who said it could take up to several weeks for farmers to receive funds if they submitted their application after the government reopened or during the government shutdown.

However, Martin said he’s confident the applications his office received by Friday will be processed and paid out by planting season. FSA direct loans assist farmers when they’re unable to obtain financing through a bank and can help with the cost of farm-related expenses, such as large equipment purchases or repairs or the cost of seed or grain to feed livestock.

FSA offices in Wisconsin have been working on the backlog since Jan. 24, according to the Wisconsin executive director for the USDA, Sandy Chalmers. She is confident the offices will process all of the applications by the statutory deadline, despite processing times that vary, depending on the complexity of the loan.

Martin expressed some worry.

“Obviously we’re concerned about the loans we may get in too late, and that’s part of the problem,” he said. “If they’re difficult loans to work through and we don’t have much time, that’s where we could run into problems of securing financing for planting and purchasing.”

Martin and his office hope farmers will apply as soon as possible.

Federal agencies, including FSA offices, opened Jan. 25, marking the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history after President Donald Trump signed a stopgap spending bill passed by Congress, without money for a border wall, to keep federal offices open until Feb. 15 — the day after the new deadline for farmers to submit crop certification numbers to receive a government subsidy through the Market Facilitation Program.

The MFP helps farmers recoup revenue lost as a result of tariffs placed on agriculture exports such as soybeans, dairy or pork during the trade war between the U.S. and China in 2018. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue extended the subsidy application deadline until Feb. 14 to give farmers and FSA employees the chance to make up for lost time.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 applications have been submitted for MFP subsidies, according to Martin, and he estimated $600 million in payouts were authorized by the state office. Roughly 80,000 farms across Minnesota qualify for an MFP subsidy, and several thousand Minnesota farmers visited FSA offices across the state since the offices were reopened, Martin said.

Chalmers said FSA county employees are reaching out to agriculture producers to make sure they send in their crop certification numbers or complete the forms necessary to qualify for the MFP before the Feb. 14 deadline.

Morale among FSA employees in Minnesota is as well as can be expected, Martin said. “I think folks are just happy to be back at work and serving the farmers in their communities.”

In response to the government shutdown, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue extended the subsidy application deadline until Feb. 14.

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