How The Government Shutdown Is Hurting Farmers

Lawmakers battling over the food assistance program SNAP failed to pass a new farm bill this year, and the current one expired on Monday.

The farm bill traditionally touches on trade, rural development, loan credit, subsidies for farmers, a safety net for farmers and food for poor women and children.

With this season’s harvest underway, farmers are worried about getting crop insurance for the next cycle of planting.

Glenn Brunkow, a farmer in Westmoreland, Kansas, says the government shutdown is causing ripple effects for farming.

“I don’t know where we’re at from here,” Brunkow told Here & Now. “On top of not having a farm bill and not having crop insurance, our Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, our local offices are shutdown. We’re kind of in limbo right now.”


  • Glenn Brunkow, is a farmer in Westmoreland, Kansas. He tweets @Brunkow.
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And while all of Washington is focused on the shutdown, other bills are dying on the vine. Take the farm bill. Lawmakers battling over the nutritional program SNAP for poor women and children failed to pass a new bill this year, and the current one expired on Monday. The farm bill traditionally touches on trade, rural development, credit, subsidies for farmers, food for the poor and the safety net for farmer, incentives that put crop insurance within their reach, protecting them from bad weather and a drop in food prices. And with this season's harvest underway, that aspect of the bill is what farmers are worried about the most

Let's bring in, from Kansas, Glenn Brunkow. He raises cattle, sheep, soybeans, corn, wheat and grain, sorghum in Westmoreland. And, Glenn, I know you've got the time to speak about it to us because you had a little rain out there.

GLENN BRUNKOW: Yes, yes. We're very grateful for any rain we get after the last couple of years.

YOUNG: Although that means you can't go out and work, so you can talk to us. And for non-farmers, explain how insurance - farm insurance works.

BRUNKOW: We pay a premium, and we choose the level of coverage. There are several different types of insurance we can get. Also, it's kind of up to us as to our risks aversion and maybe also up to our lenders also what kind of coverage we carry. It is heavily subsidized by the government. This is in place of the old disaster programs that used to be kind of ad hoc emergency programs that often were very expensive and cumbersome. And this is far more efficient and far more cost-effective than the old programs were.

YOUNG: Well - and - when you say government subsidies, these are sort of incentives to get farmers to cover themselves against - to avoid trying to help a farmer recover after disaster. So those subsidies, do they help you pay your premiums?

BRUNKOW: Yes, yes. Without the subsidies, crop insurance is out of reach for most of us. Despite the very nature of farming, you know, there's disaster somewhere every year. And so without the government subsidy, most of us, especially young farmers like myself, couldn't afford crop insurance.

YOUNG: Well, Iowa's Tom Harkin told the website that all reimbursements to local crop insurance agencies, in Iowa at least, are on hold. I'm assuming it's the same way across the country. Again, this is the money that's coming from the federal government to help farmers buy this insurance.


YOUNG: What does that do to you?

BRUNKOW: It really puts us in a bind. We are in a middle of harvest right now. So, right now, we're OK. But once we get the harvest in, we usually - most of us go to our lenders and start negotiating our operating notes for the coming year. And because some of the new regulations placed in the banks, they need more security when it comes to our operating notes. So they require us to actually have crop insurance, so that kind of put us in a bind in November and December and January, when we start talking to them about our operating notes.

YOUNG: Yeah. Most small farmers - we're not talking about big agriculture here. We're talking about people like you who borrow the money to put in the crop and then pay it back after you harvest it. You are in a cycle.

BRUNKOW: Yes, yes.

YOUNG: Yeah.

BRUNKOW: Farming is such a capital on Kansas' operation. We rely very heavily on our operating note, and that's across the board. I've talked to just neighbors of very large farmers. We're a small to medium small farm, and we all rely on that, and we all rely on the crop insurance.

YOUNG: Well, Senator John McCain is an opponent of farm subsidies. This year, when the Senate was considering the bill, he said, crop insurance's reputation as a safety net for farmers is dubious. What do you say?

BRUNKOW: I have to disagree with him. My colleagues in southwest Kansas have been through several years of drought. And at least they have a crop insurance to ensure that their fixed costs are covered and they remain in business. Our food supply and our food security is a matter of national security. And as much as we hate being in reliant on foreign oil, boy, I would hate to rely on foreign food. So the safety net to ensure that we can find a crop next year and that we can continue to operate is absolutely critical. And from standpoint, the crop insurance has worked very well.

Last year, we did collect crop insurance. We had a crop failure. And this allows us to repay our notes, to pay our fixed expenses. Our living expenses this past year has been pretty slim. We've had to cut back quite a bit. But because of the crop insurance, we were able to stay in business.

YOUNG: Well, what happens if it's not just that you had a debate over the supplemental nutritional program? That's what held up the renewal of the farm bill. Now, you've got a government shutdown.

BRUNKOW: Right. And I don't know where we're at from here. You know, on top of not having a farm bill and not having assurance of crop insurance, the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, both are shut down and our local offices. And so we can't go in there and do the necessary sign-ups. You know, all payments are put on hold for conservation work. So yeah, we're kind of in limbo right now.

YOUNG: Glenn Brunkow, a farmer in Westmoreland, Kansas. Glenn, thanks for speaking with us.

BRUNKOW: Oh, no problem at all. And any time I'm more than happy to discuss anything agriculture related, so...

YOUNG: Especially when it's raining.


BRUNKOW: Especially when it's raining. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.