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End the shutdown: It's hurting ag

If you're part of U.S. agriculture, you realize the huge role the federal government plays in our food system. For better or worse, or both, the government is involved, directly or indirectly, in countless aspects of modern American agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through loans, scientific research, trade statistics, safety-net programs, livestock and crop reports, and much more, is particularly important.

So we're increasingly concerned by the partial government shutdown, already the longest in history. As the shutdown stretches on — and on, and on — uncertainty and economic pain grows for farmers and ranchers and ag businesses that serve them. The shutdown worsens what were already tough times for many in ag.

The dispute centers around President Donald Trump's demand for a little more than $5 billion for his long-promised wall along the U.S-Mexico border. Democrats insist they won't allocate any money for a wall.

We've said it before, we'll say it again here. Trump is polarizing; he generates strong, opposing reactions alongside passionate, supportive backing from many Americans. Reflecting that, his worst critics seem to automatically oppose anything he proposes, while his ardent fans seem to automatically support whatever he advocates.

U.S. agriculturalists need to avoid those reflexive pro- or anti-Trump responses, focusing instead on whether a Trump policy helps or hurts our country and U.S. agriculture.

Make no mistake, the shutdown is hurting ag. In too many cases, farmers and ranchers — who need to wrap up their 2018 finances and make financial plans for 2019 — have been unable to get the loans, data, payments and advice from the federal government required to do so. That, in turn, impairs the bankers, grain elevators, equipment and input dealers and other ag businesses that serve farmer and ranchers.

Poor commodity prices and limited, even non-existent, farm profitability already had created major challenges for ag producers. The shutdown exacerbates those difficulties.

The timing of the shutdown is especially troublesome. The 2018 farm bill, the centerpiece of U.S. food and ag policy, was approved late last year. But the farm bill's crucial rule-making and implementation process needs to be completed, which the shutdown has interrupted — again working against U.S. agriculture.

There's one positive development. We're encouraged that the Farm Service Agency, a key arm of USDA, is reopening and will offer more services. FSA is involved in disaster, commodity, conservation, and farm loan programs, among many things; most Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers visit their county FSA offices regularly to update paperwork and stay current with changes in federal farm programs.

It's safe to assume that behind-the-scenes pressure from farm-state Republican elected officials contributed to FSA offices reopening. But whatever or whoever is responsible, the reopenings were a significant step in the right direction.

As this editorial is being written, there are rumblings from some political prognosticators that the shutdown might end in the next few days. We hope they're right.

But for now, the shutdown continues. And each day it does, U.S. agriculture suffers a little more.

We know many Trump supporters will disagree. Some will brand us "anti-Trump" and question our motives.

But our goal is simple and clear-cut: We want what's best for U.S. agriculture — and clearly, that's ending the federal government shutdown. Farmers, ranchers, ag businesses and Americans, in general, need USDA employees back at work.

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