MOUNT PLEASANT -- It was payday for Mike Kennedy when the local Farm Service Agency opened its doors Thursday for three days of limited service during the nearly month-old government shutdown.

“A check that needs signed is an activity we can do,” said an employee in the Henry County office as Kennedy approached the counter.

After 27 days of a partial federal government shutdown, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency employees in 37 out of 97 offices in Iowa returned to work — without pay for now. The offices will be open again today and Tuesday during normal business hours.

Employees are available to assist agricultural producers with existing farm loans and ensure the agency provides 1099 tax documents to borrowers by the IRS deadline. But they are not accepting new applicants under the trade mitigation program.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the temporary reopening of about 1,000 of the 2,100 field offices nationwide, said the USDA is doing its best to minimize the impact of the funding impasse on America’s farmers — a key constituency for President Donald Trump.

Producers need to be able to file their taxes timely,” said Amanda DeJong, executive director for Iowa Farm Service Agency. “Until we have full appropriation, we’re unable to do a lot of new 2019 business,” she added, asking people to be respectful of the employees working under “tight constraints and timelines.”

Farmers who have loan deadlines during the lapse do not need to make payments until the shutdown ends, according to the USDA.

Kennedy, a corn and bean farmer from Yarmouth, receives a check every time he sells grain that has to be signed by a USDA employee before he is able to take it to the bank. He got the check Jan. 2, but just Thursday got it signed by Garry Movall, farm loan manager at the Henry County Farm Service Agency.

“My banker knows what’s going on,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is a part of the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans program, which helped him buy the 40 acres he farms today and helps strengthen his operations.

Kennedy said he is more for Trump’s reason for the government shutdown — to secure $5.7 billion for a border wall — than against it.

Keith Koresko agrees.

“We need a wall. All those immigrants coming here, they want our jobs,” Koresko said. “I hope the shutdown will be worth it.”

Koresko stopped by the office to make a payment on his loan, which he found he wasn’t able to do with only the limited services available.

Koresko lives on a farm in Salem, about 8 miles south of Mount Pleasant. He applied for a loan through the USDA in 2015 after the bank wouldn’t loan him more.

“I just couldn’t make enough money,” he said. “What we got for our crops didn’t pay for the machinery or a living.”

He had been fighting the sale of his farm for 20 years. But in 2018, it was sold at auction.

“It’s been tough this year. A lot of tears shed,” he said. “It’s too late for me. I’ll be 82 years old in April, but I don’t want to give up yet.”

Duane Thomas and his son, Rick Thomas, who farm 5 miles north of Mount Pleasant, came into the office Thursday wanting to sign up for the Market Facilitation Program — but despite the office reopening that’s not a service being offered to new applicants during the shutdown.

The program provides direct payments to eligible producers impacted by trade disputes.

“As you get closer to planting season, it’s going to get worse,” Duane Thomas said. “We need that tariff mitigation payment.”

While the original deadline for producers to apply for bailout was Jan. 15, the deadline will be extended according to the number of business days the field offices end up being closed, according to the USDA.

Rick Thomas said the retaliatory tariffs affect their prices, with 60 percent of demand for U.S. soybeans coming from China.

He is also frustrated they cannot look up new government data about beef prices and soybean yields during the shutdown to make planting and selling decisions for the 2019 season.

“We haven’t changed a lot yet,” Rick Thomas said. “We don’t base planting intentions on that too much.”

Jerry Mabeus said the government shutdown has not been a big problem for him.

Mabeus came into the field office to turn in a form for multiple peril crop insurance, which provides coverage for naturally-occurring loss of production during a growing season.

“I’m hoping it gets over before spring planting,” Mabeus said. “When you get into the first of March, we’ll start hurting.”

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