The government shutdown has hit Georgia farmers just as many of them are harvesting their crops. Some say they’re missing critical loans and direct payments from the government when they need the money the most.
Jimmy Webb grows cotton, peanuts and corn on his farm in Leary, in southwest Georgia, near Albany.
He’s harvesting crops right now. Normally he says the federal government will loan him money through farm service agencies.
But not this week.
“With no offices open, we can’t get a cotton loan, we can’t get a peanut loan, we can’t get a corn loan,” he says. “A lot of people use this money to keep their businesses going. You can get income quicker before you actually sell the commodity because it’s hard to get that commodity transported and moved, especially corn.”
And that’s a real problem at this time of the year, he says.
“We have spent all of our money and used up all of our line of credit to produce the crop,” he says. “And hopefully we’re fixing to harvest and get it back.”
Many farmers are also due direct payments from U.S. Department of Agriculture offices. But they’ve been closed, too.
Most of the federal government shut down last Tuesday.
Farmers are worried about something else amidst the government shutdown.
The federal farm bill expired last week, bringing more uncertainty for Georgia farmers.
The bill governs rules for critical crop loans and subsidies that farmers rely on to survive between planting and harvesting seasons.
Don Koehler is with the Georgia Peanut Commission in Tifton. He says the current budget crisis has distracted Congress from real issues like reauthorizing the farm bill.
“I just really hope Washington can get its act together and get all of this finished and get us back to have a budget because they’re really impacting the lives of real people out here, whether they realize it or not,” he says.
Koehler says it took months for Congress to OK the last farm bill in 2002, and Georgia farmers had to plant crops without knowing whether there would be loans or subsidies available to them.
He says the furloughs have also put a halt to research that’s experimenting with peanut crop yields. He says harvest time isn’t the right moment to put the research on hold. And he says failing to collect and monitor data could jeopardize years of work.
Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry. The peanut crop alone accounts for 20 percent of the state’s farm income.