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Published October 07, 2013, 11:49 AM

Shutdown forces SD office into a shed

As the federal government came grinding to a halt on Oct. 1, Jim Lehi was forced to set up his office in a maintenance shed.

By: Chris Mueller, Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. — As the federal government came grinding to a halt on Oct. 1, Jim Lehi was forced to set up his office in a maintenance shed.

Lehi, manager of the Davison County (S.D.) Conservation District, typically works at an office in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center in Mitchell. But with that facility closed Oct. 1 because of the federal government shutdown, Lehi and his secretary were forced to relocate their offices to the conservation district’s maintenance shed at the Davison County Fairgrounds.

“We just took what we needed out of the office and set up out here,” he says.

The shed, known informally as the “tree shed,” is typically a space used to store and perform maintenance on the conservation district’s equipment, Lehi says. With nowhere else to go, Lehi and his secretary hastily converted the shed into a temporary office, using computers, printers and other supplies moved from the conservation district’s closed offices at the USDA Service Center.

“It’s not quite as nice,” Lehi says, jokingly comparing the shed with the conservation district’s normal offices.

The Davison County Conservation District is a subdivision of state government, as are all conservation districts in South Dakota. The district generates its own revenue, Lehi says, which means it isn’t affected financially by the government shutdown.

“We can continue to function,” he says. “We just can’t be in the office.”

According to the state Association of Conservation Districts’ website, conservation districts work to coordinate resources and develop locally led solutions to natural resource concerns.

The conservation district is prepared to work out of its temporary office for now, Lehi says, but the sooner the shutdown ends, the better. In the meantime, the conservation district will attempt to operate as normally as it possibly can.

“We’ll just do what we have to do. That’s just the way it is,” he says. “We have to continue to function, so we’ll do whatever we can to make that possible.”

The USDA Service Center in Mitchell also houses the local branches of the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development. Workers at those agencies have been forced to take unpaid furloughs because of the shutdown.

“Until there are appropriations, we won’t be in business,” says Davison County FSA Director Jessica Steidl.

Steidl declined to give any additional comments. Calls made Oct. 1 to state FSA spokeswoman Jamie White were not immediately returned.

The regular flow of agriculture-related reports from USDA, which cover topics such as crop estimates and commodity prices, could be interrupted by the government shutdown. As a consequence, the marketplace could become more volatile, according to Jack Davis, an economist at South Dakota State University Extension’s Mitchell Regional Center.

“It just adds uncertainty during the harvest, as farmers are wrapping up their business this year and planning for next year,” he says.

Commodity prices may drop as a result of the shutdown, but farmers shouldn’t overreact and change their plans for this year’s harvest, Davis says.

“You don’t want to panic,” he says. “They will eventually get things worked out.”