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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened Farm Service Agency offices in the Wisconsin counties of Vernon and Monroe, and in Fillmore County, Minn., for three days to help farmers with existing loans and provide tax documents borrowers need to file by the IRS deadline.

Those offices opened Thursday and will be open Friday and Tuesday during regular business hours to process loan payments made before the end of 2018 and expiring financing statements, according to a USDA press release. The offices hours are part of a nationwide program open some offices to help farmers during the government shutdown.

However, these offices will not be able to process new direct or facility loans, farm loan guarantees, marketing assistance loans or new applications for the Market Facilitation Program —designed to mitigate effects of the trade war between the U.S. and China — or certify production numbers for MFP payments. Nor will the offices perform services under the Dairy Margin Protection Program, put in place in 2014 to help farmers recoup financial losses if the cost to feed livestock becomes greater than the all-milk market price.

“Until Congress sends President Trump an appropriations bill in the form that he will sign, we are doing our best to minimize the impact of the partial federal funding lapse on America’s agricultural producers,” Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said in the press release. “We are bringing back part of our FSA team to help producers with existing farm loans.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind mug

Kind

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, called the measure a piecemeal approach to placating a growing number of farmers affected by the shutdown. Agriculture production is a large part of Wisconsin’s economy that is directly and negatively affected when the FSA isn’t fully functioning, Kind said. “People are getting hurt, back home.

“The FSA offices aren’t up and functioning at a crucial time of the year when [farmers] have to make planting decisions, get operating loans, buy their seed and fuel and fertilizer for the upcoming season,” Kind said in an interview. “I know [FSA employees] are going to go in and they’re going to do the best job they can under an incredible amount of stress because of the time limits that they’re operating, and they’re not even getting paid. This is so unfair to them.”

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Brad Kremer, owner of Hillcrest Family Farms in Pittsville, Wis., filed paperwork to receive his payment for the 2018 fall crop from the MFP just before the start of the government shutdown in late December, but because the shutdown began before his paperwork was processed, he’s still waiting to receive his check. Most farmers in Wisconsin have not received their second payment due to the state’s late harvest, as the program requires farmers to certify their crop post-harvest in order to get paid, Kremer said.

“Whether you were depending on those payments to do something specifically, whether it was to pay a bill or purchase [seed or equipment] for 2019, that money’s not coming through,” Kremer said. “Most farmers are in survival mode right now.”

The deadline to submit paperwork for the MFP payment was initially Jan. 15, but Secretary Perdue has extended that date as many days as the government remains shuttered.

Prior to the shutdown, it was possible for farmers to received their MFP payments as soon as seven days after submitting the necessary paperwork. Some farmers fear there could be a backlog that will extend that wait well into the approaching planting season, Kremer said.

Kevin Hoyer, a farmer in West Salem, said the shutdown has not affected his business, as he was able to certify his crop, send in his paperwork and receive his payment before the federal impasse, but he fears the backlog certifying crops and processing payments will hurt rural communities that have struggled in recent years.

“While the ag sector in La Crosse county is a minority, the ag economy is not, and that drives the rural economy, which is hurting,” Hoyer said. “Not because of the government shutdown and not necessarily because of the tariffs but because of the economic pressures that have been put on agriculture in the past four to seven years.”

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Data, interactive and video journalist

Elizabeth Beyer is the agriculture, data, interactive, audio and video journalist with the La Crosse Tribune.

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