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1/20/2019 4:58:00 PM
Shutdown closes door on new programs and 2018 payments for Northwest Indiana farmers
Keith Gustafson, owner and farmer of Gustafson Farm in Valparaiso, fills a trough with water as he tends to his cattle on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)
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Keith Gustafson, owner and farmer of Gustafson Farm in Valparaiso, fills a trough with water as he tends to his cattle on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune Correspondent

For third-generation Porter Township farmer Keith Gustafson, a lot of things are on hold because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

This time of year, he would normally be ordering fertilizer and seed at a discount, but he said that opportunity isn’t available. Also not available is his 2018 corn and soybean payment through the Farm Service Agency, which he won’t be able to get until the office reopens.

“At this point in time, we’re just on hold waiting to see what happens,” he said.

The FSA is another one of the casualties of the partial government shutdown, said Wayne Belden, regional manager for the Farm Bureau.

“It’s hard for farmers at this point in time to conduct business,” he said, adding agency offices in Valparaiso and Rennselaer, which serve farmers in the region, are closed.

A call to the Valparaiso office generated a recording noting that officials weren’t in the office at this time because they were on furlough due to the partial federal government shutdown.

“We look forward to returning your call once funding has been restored,” the message stated.

New programs for this year, part of a farm bill passed in December, can’t be implemented with agency employees on furlough, Belden said.

“That’s on hold until they go back to work,” he said.

He’s hopeful that the shutdown, already in its fourth week, won’t have a long-term impact for local farmers.

“I’m personally confident that they’ll come to some sort of resolution and this will be resolved,” Belden said. “Democrats and Republicans want what’s best for the American people.”

The office’s closure is having a ripple effect on the farmers who depend on its services, including people like Gustafson.

Gustafson’s grandparents purchased the family farm off Indiana 2 in 1898. Originally 80 acres, it’s expanded to 234 acres over time, and focuses on beef cattle.

He worked as an ag loan officer for a bank for more than 13 years and his last job was managing a grain elevator in Wanatah.

“I’ve got some experience on both sides of the fence there,” said Gustafson, 70.

The shutdown also put off a government report usually released in early January for 2018 yields, so the grain markets can’t set their prices, Gustafson said, adding the markets have been down most of the past several days.

The last government shutdown, in October 2013 for 16 days, didn’t have the same impact because it was shorter and in the fall, he said.

This shutdown is wider spread because of its duration and its timing.

“You just stop spending money until all this gets straightened out,” he said. “I would certainly hope a compromise does come about fairly soon but if it doesn’t, the ag industry is just going to have to reduce their expenses.”

That will hurt farmers and retail markets, he said, adding one of the FSA’s services is commodity loans, which aren’t available since the office is closed. He wondered if banks will be able to finance farmers in the same way.

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