While all eyes are on Capital Hill, there has been little indication as to whether the Democrats and Republicans in either of the federal houses will reach an agreement on the government’s budget and avoid a shut down.  The deadline is by midnight tonight.

“We still believe there is an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown, but are working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios,” according to a USDA official. “Agency operational plans are still being finalized, but in the event of a government shutdown most USDA activities would be shut down or significantly reduced and most USDA employees would be furloughed.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack offered his perspective to AgrTalk on the prospect of a government shutdown and its impact on U.S. agriculture.

Certain USDA activities would continue because they are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property, or are financed through available funding (such as through user fees).  Such areas include:

  • Meat, poultry and egg inspection services
  • Grain and other commodity inspection, weighing and grading services funded by user fees
  • Inspections for import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests into and out of the United States
  • Forest Service law enforcement and fire suppression efforts. 
  • In addition, funds have been made available to continue the Women, Infants and Children and Child Nutrition programs through June, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has sufficient funding to allow benefits to continue through May.

Areas for which USDA is responsible that would halt if the government closes up shop, include:

  • Farm loans and other farm payments
  • Provision of conservation technical and financial assistance
  • Provision of new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses
  • Agricultural export credit and other agricultural trade development and monitoring activities
  • National Forest System recreation sites across the U.S. which require a Forest Service employee to stay open would be closed to the public.
  • Market news reports, NASS statistics, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections would be discontinued
  • Investigation of packers and stockyards related to fraudulent and anti-competitive activities
  • Assistance for the control of most plant and animal pests and diseases would be discontinued
  • Research facilities would be closed except for the care of animals and plants
  • Most departmental management, administrative and oversight functions, including civil rights, human resources, financial management, audit, legal and information technology activities would be discontinued or severely curtailed.