Farm Country Stood by Trump. But the Shutdown Is Pushing It to Breaking Point.

Source: By Jack Healy and Tyler Pager, New York Times • Posted: Friday, January 11, 2019

Pam Moore’s dairy farm in Nichols, N.Y., is on the brink of financial ruin. “It has just been one thing after another, after another, after another,” Ms. Moore said.Libby March for The New York Times

DENVER — In Georgia, a pecan farmer lost out on his chance to buy his first orchard. The local Farm Service Agency office that would have processed his loan application was shut down.

In Wisconsin’s dairy country, a 55-year-old woman sat inside her new dream home, worried she would not be able to pay her mortgage. Her loan had come from an Agriculture Department program for low-income residents in rural areas, but all of the account information she needed to make her first payment was locked away in an empty government office.

And in upstate New York, Pam Moore was feeding hay to her black-and-white cows at a small dairy that tottered on the brink of ruin. She and her husband had run up $350,000 in debt to keep the dairy running after 31 of their cows died of pneumonia, and their last lifeline was an emergency federal farm loan. But the money had been derailed by the government shutdown.

“It has just been one thing after another, after another, after another,” Ms. Moore, 57, said.

Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.

While many rural conservatives may loathe the idea of Big Government, farmers and the federal government are welded together by dozens of programs and billions of dollars in spending.

Now, farmers and farm groups say that federal crop payments have stopped flowing. Farmers cannot get federally backed operating loans to buy seed for their spring planting, or feed for their livestock. They cannot look up new government data about beef prices or soybean yields to make decisions about planting and selling their goods in an ever-changing global market.

“This is real,” said Jeff Witte, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and New Mexico’s agriculture secretary. “You had farmers who were in the process of closing a loan or getting an operating loan. Now there’s nobody there to service those.”

John Myer, a farmer in Ovid, N.Y., said he needs the $15,000 owed to him under the trade bailout to pay his property taxes, which are due by the end of January.Libby March for The New York Times

John Myer, a farmer in Ovid, N.Y., said he needs the $15,000 owed to him under the trade bailout to pay his property taxes, which are due by the end of January.Libby March for The New York Times

All week, Joe Schroeder has been listening to shutdown stories pouring into Farm Aid’s hotline. There was the cotton farmer who could not get disaster assistance to help him recover from Hurricane Michael. The woman in her 90s facing foreclosure on her family farm. The dairy farmer trying to make one last attempt to renegotiate her loan with the Farm Service Agency.

“You cannot reach anybody,” Mr. Schroeder said.

Mr. Trump is expected to address a largely friendly audience on Monday at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention. Many farmers, including David Nunnery, 59, of Pike County, Miss., have stayed unflinchingly loyal to Mr. Trump and his demands for $5.7 billion for a border wall, even as the shutdown threatens their livelihood.

“I may lose the farm, but I strongly feel we need some border security,” Mr. Nunnery said.

But Davinder Singh, 41, the Georgia pecan farmer, said the border wall was not worth the price he had already paid — losing out on the chance to finally buy his own orchard instead of working other people’s land.

“Why spend money on the wall?” he said. He just wanted the government to reopen — “as soon as possible.”

The Agriculture Department had tried to blunt the effects by keeping local Farm Service Agency offices open through December. And it extended deadlines for farmers to apply for the administration’s $12 billion bailout for farmers hurt by Mr. Trump’s trade policies.

States like Wisconsin, which lost at least 638 dairy farms last year, are particularly vulnerable.

The new farm bill passed in December contained programs to help dairy farmers weather swings in the market, and to help farmers struggling with stress and depression get mental health services. But those programs cannot be put in effect during the shutdown, said Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin.

“More uncertainty and more stress,” she said. “We can’t afford to wait months and months. We need to get this moving now.”

In Manitowoc County, Wis., Michael Slattery, a grain farmer, is waiting on $9,000 — money the federal government owes him under its trade bailout and a conservation program for farmers who take steps to reduce erosion and runoff from their fields.

Mr. Slattery said farmers needed these funds to make big off-season purchases such as seed, chemicals and diesel as they prepared for the planting season. But he said everything had ground to a standstill. The county Farm Service Agency committee cannot meet. Mr. Slattery, who is also an economist, said he cannot get any raw data to make farming forecasts.

“We’re being played the stooge,” he said.

In New York’s farming communities, the shutdown is heaping additional pain onto farmers after a year of tariff losses, destructive weather and labor shortages because of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns.

In Ovid, N.Y., it has left John Myer seething at Mr. Trump as he waits for at least $15,000 owed to him under the trade bailout. Mr. Myer needs the money to pay his property taxes, which are due by the end of January. Mr. Myer, 64, filed his paperwork before the shutdown, but said no payments were being processed.

“You could hardly call it a political stunt,” said Mr. Myer, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It’s a personal power stance because he doesn’t really care about anything, I don’t think, besides himself.”

This week, as Ms. Moore, the struggling dairy farmer, sipped coffee at Sallie’s Country Kitchen on Main Street in the 2,500-person town of Nichols, she said it felt like her financial problems were closing in.

In a corner booth, she spotted a neighbor who had done $147.90 of yard work and trash hauling on her farm. She did not have enough money to pay him.

With little money left for food, she went to a food pantry on Thursday afternoon, picking out frozen fruits and vegetables, pasta, bread, dried beans and some onions to cook when her 9-year-old grandson visited later in the week.

“We just have to do what we have to do to get by,” she said.

Jack Healy reported from Denver and Tyler Pager from Nichols, N.Y.