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How long before Montana farmers feel impacts from the shutdown?

  Montana employees of the US Department of Agriculture make up the largest piece of the state’s federal workforce.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry Economist Barb Wagner said latest figures show about 12,600 federal employees work in Montana, not including military personnel—which she says her office does not track. Of that civilian workforce, about 3,000 work for the USDA.

As Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette reports, federal agencies aren’t saying much with regards to how many of these employees are considered ‘non-essential’ and are therefore facing furloughs until the government shutdown is over. Lutey reports all 49 USDA Farm Service Agency offices will close during the shutdown. But the Montana Farm Bureau said right now the impacts will be minimal.

"First off, I don't think that 90 percent of the AG industry would even notice the shutdown immediately," Farm Bureau Vice President for Governmental Affairs John Youngberg said. “You know, essential services are still going on, the inspection services, anything that deals with safety.”

Youngberg did say a shutdown lasting longer than two weeks would start to prompt a more serious situation for farmers. But, he said the most worrisome issue currently is the Farm Bill--which expired last night. He said that could bring a lot of uncertainty regarding certain crop programs before too long—an uncertainty the ag community does not like to see.

"Because you have farmers and ranchers making long-term decisions on planning, long-term decisions on investment, long-term decisions on cropping, and they don't have any answers," he said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said the House this past weekend merged the SNAP and Ag-related portions of the farm bill in order to move the measure to a conference committee.

"I'm putting a lot of pressure, as are many members who represent states that have ag businesses on leadership to get this done as quickly as possible," Daines said.

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