Standing beside his family’s roadside fruit and vegetable stand in Lewes, farmer Christopher Magee said he understands President Trump’s push for border security.
“But, we need to take care of our own,” Christopher said. “When you have to buy food from China and Russia, how secure is that?
“Don’t hold us hostage,” he continued. “We have a job to do. I feel for government employees because now I’m in the same boat. I did my work, and now I’m not getting paid.”
With the closure of thousands of Farm Service Agency county offices, farmers cannot sign up for Farm Bill programs or apply for loans. Tariff relief payments and Farm Bill improvements for dairy farmers are on hold, and delayed agricultural production reports add uncertainty to the markets and make it difficult for farmers to plan for the new year.
Christopher, his mother Ellen Magee and Sen. Tom Carper met Jan. 11 at Magee Farms in Lewes to call for action to help farmers hurt because of the federal shutdown.
Christopher said, as a young farmer, he relies on the USDA for its expertise.
“My wife, son and I have been farming three years on our own,” he said. “The USDA gives us a way to finance operations and gives us a credit line to get on our feet and establish collateral to show banks.”
Christopher said this is the worst time to be shut down, as farmers are planning for this year’s crops.
“I’ve paid back my loans and need to buy materials and seeds,” he said. “We already had a 30 percent pay cut because of the tariffs I’ll never get back.”
Carper said the federal Department of Agriculture advises farmers in many ways, such as what seeds or fertilizers to buy every year, and also provides farm subsidies. With the department closed, farmers whose bottom lines have already been hurt by the president’s tariffs no longer have that support, he said.
Carper called on the president to take action on unsigned agricultural appropriations bills.
“Stop holding American farmers hostage,” Carper said. “Why don’t you sign six appropriations bills that have nothing to do with border security?”
Carper noted without secure borders, the country is in serious trouble, but he said there are now more Mexicans returning to Mexico from the United States than there are entering the United States.
“The number of people trying to get into the United States is down 80 percent since 2000,” Carper said.
Carper said people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador comprise the majority of people coming to the United States from the south.
“The people are coming here because they live horrific lives,” Carper said. “They lack security, opportunity, education and hope because of the drug trade we support. Because of our addiction to drugs, we make life horrible for them.”
Carper said in places along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, a wall makes sense.
“In other areas, a fence makes more sense, and we need roads beside the fence so border patrol can patrol, and stop and take people into custody if necessary,” he said. “Along the Rio Grande, boats make more sense.”
Carper said in other areas, highly sophisticated surveillance equipment on drones, helicopters or dirigibles allows border patrol agents to look 25 miles into Mexico, day or night, regardless of the weather, and that a combination of all tactics creates better intelligence.
“The president in his campaign has said Mexico is going to pay for the wall,” he said. “They’re not going to pay for it, and there is collateral damage in this shutdown.”
Ellen Magee said farmers have a job to do.
“The federal government needs to be open for business and take care of business,” she said. “I work every day, and our federal government should also work every day.”
Christopher agreed. “We’re 21 days in right now. Next time we turn around, it’ll be March. We have got to get things squared away.”