Iowa farmers wary of how sequester will affect them

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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As sequestration looms, the farming community is anticipating uncertainty.

The automatic national spending cuts begin today. Although officials agree that it will definitely affect agriculture, they aren’t sure how it will play out.

“We’re not entirely sure,” said Dale Moore, the public-policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We know that it is going to have impact.”

Moore said sequestration would entail a 5 percent cut in overall budget for farm programs.

“It’s like watching one of those daredevil stunt shows where so much is going on that it is hard to keep track of the action,” Moore said. “Somewhere in the middle of this process, we remain hopeful that someone is trying to figure out what is going on.”

One local farmer is bracing for how the cuts might affect certain producers.

“Overall, I think that the impact of sequestering will likely be gradual, which is why I believe that we didn’t see congressmen meeting late into the evening on the eve of the sequester,” said local farmer Jim Dane, owner of Haldane Farm near Iowa City. “I think that the local farmers, like everyone, will adapt. My main concern among farmers is the impact on the dairy producers, but I’m not sure of the immediate impact.”

Dane said the sequestration could immediately affect milk prices.

“The milk check might be smaller for dairy farmers almost immediately,” he said. “This is a guess, but that’s my inclination.”

And with an already unsteady market, Dane is wary of more change.

“With such high feed prices for corn, soybean meal, and especially hay, it would be very difficult to make ends meet if the milk income dips even a little bit,” he said.

Dave Warner, the director of communications for the National Pork Producers Council, is worried that sequestration might mean a furlough of Food Safety Inspection Service workers.

“It could affect pork producers if they are unable to send pigs to the packing plant,” he said.

However, the nature of the possible furlough is also uncertain.

“Initially, USDA said meat inspectors could be furloughed for ‘up to 15 days,’ ” Warner said.

“Certainly, there would be a huge problem if all inspectors across the country were furloughed for that long at the same time. But that’s not likely to happen. It’s more likely that inspectors could be furloughed for a day or two at a time and on a rotating basis.”

Dane is also worried about the implications of a possible furlough.

“I suspect that meat prices for the consumer will rise, because demand will continue while available meat is reduced,” he said.

Even with confusion surrounding sequestration, the American Farm Bureau Federation supports the option.

“Farm Bureau policy does support sequestration as a federal budget tool, but it is not our preferred option,” Moore said.

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