Pryor said he is worried that his state’s county extension service could be affected if Congress does not approve an extension for the farm bill.
Two major programs for promoting U.S. farm products overseas, the Foreign Market Development Program and the Market Access Program, will be among the first affected. According to the USDA, groups that get Foreign Market Development funding to operate overseas promotional efforts may have to close offices and lay off staff. A large portion of the Foreign Market Development money goes to rent and salaries, according to a USDA email. In addition, Agriculture Department staff will have to delay doing any work on the Market Access Program’s fiscal 2014 grants until the program’s authority is renewed.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a blog post outlining the impact of the extension expiration, notes that there can be no new enrollments starting next month in the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program also will be closed down until a new farm bill or extension is passed.
“There are real and immediate impacts that result from Congress’ decision to neglect its duty and allow the existing farm bill extension to expire on October 1,” the coalition said.
It’s also important to remember that the expiring farm bill extension didn’t provide any additional mandatory funding for 37 programs that were left without a funding baseline when the 2008 law expired a year ago, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Many, but not all, of those are relatively small conservation, nutrition, rural development, research and energy programs without sizable constituencies. Some of the programs would receive renewed funding under one or both of the farm bills that have passed the House and Senate. The popular Value-Added Agricultural Market Development grants, for example, would be funded under both bills.
As for a shutdown’s effect on the USDA, Pryor said he had not spoken with department officials about their plans for determining who is an essential employee and which of the agency’s wide-ranging responsibilities would merit continuation in a potential shutdown.
Pryor said he is worried that his state’s county extension service could be affected if Congress does not approve a continuing resolution.
“They have agents in every county, and that might be jeopardized or at least part of that funding might be jeopardized,” Pryor said.
He noted that the Agriculture Department has trimmed its budget and its workforce since fiscal 2012 to meet sequester and congressional savings targets.
“The Department of Agriculture has taken several hits over the last three years. It’s not good,” Pryor added.
However, Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who was Agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush, said he was not worried yet about the department. Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, an appropriator and ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, also said he had no immediate concerns. Cochran said he trusted agriculture officials would take steps to “cause the least amount of pain and confusion.”
A USDA spokeswoman referred CQ Roll Call to the Office of Management and Budget, which in turn referred a reporter to the administration’s Sept. 17 government-wide general guidance for departments and agencies.