ATWATER, Minn. – Matt Anderson, who raises corn and other crops near this central Minnesota town, has a $20,000 check that he can’t cash because of the government shutdown.
Like many farmers, Anderson borrows money from the Farm Service Agency. And when he gets paid for the crops he grows, the check is made out to both him and the FSA. But with that agency closed by the government shutdown that began nearly four weeks ago, he and other farmers have been left in limbo, unable to cash those checks and prepare for 2019 planting work.
“We can’t get it stamped, so we can’t cash it, and we can’t prepay for seed or chemicals,” said Anderson, who raises corn, soybeans, peas and sweet corn. “I know a few guys in the same boat, sitting on checks that they can’t do anything with.”
On Wednesday, with pressure growing to restart farmers’ cash flow, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would recall about 2,500 workers and reopen about 800 FSA offices around the country on Thursday, Friday and next Tuesday. Twenty such offices will open in Minnesota and not a moment too soon for Anderson and many other farmers. None will open on Monday, the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
FSA employees will help farmers with existing loans, open mail, and “as an intermittent incidental duty,” sign checks payable to FSA. They will not be allowed to start new loans or take applications for other assistance, such as dairy protections or disaster relief.
Anderson’s $20,000 check is for a December corn contract, and he’s preparing to deliver about $30,000 in soybeans later this week. The delay on cashing checks has been more than a minor annoyance. Farmers need cash to secure operating loans from their banks, and prepaying for seed and chemicals saves them money.
“If you can prepay early, you can get a little bit of a discount, and every dollar counts, that’s for sure,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s nearest FSA office is in Willmar, but that one won’t be opening. He said he will probably drive to Glencoe, 45 minutes away, to get his check cashed. “If I have to drive to Glencoe, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
As for the check he will receive for the soybeans he plans to deliver on Friday, he expects it will come too late for it to be signed during the brief window that FSA offices will be open.
“We won’t see that check for another week or so, so if the government is still shut down, we’ll have to sit on that,” Anderson said.
One option is to take out a short-term loan against the check. “We’d have to pay interest, which is kind of goofy,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the opening of the offices is meant to “minimize the impact” of the shutdown on farmers.
“We are bringing back part of our FSA team to help producers with existing farm loans,” Perdue said in a statement. “Meanwhile, we continue to examine our legal authorities to ensure we are providing services to our customers to the greatest extent possible during the shutdown.”