The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Wednesday it had pulled all staff from an annual crop tour after an employee was threatened, and three sources said the threat came over the phone from an angry farmer, Trend reports citing Reuters.
Farmers have complained this month that a government crop report did not reflect damage from historic flooding this spring. They are also frustrated over unsold crops due to the trade war with China, falling farm income and tighter credit conditions.
Lance Honig, crops chief at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and other USDA staffers left the privately-run Pro Farmer tour and police will be present on upcoming stops of the trip, which ends on Thursday, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.
“A USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service employee received a threat while on the ProFarmer Crop Tour from someone not involved with the tour,” Hubert Hamer, administrator of the statistics service, said in a statement. “As a precaution, we immediately pulled all our staff out of the event.”
The Federal Protective Service was contacted and is investigating the incident, USDA said.
USDA declined to give details on the threat, but tour organizers said in a statement that it was taken “very seriously.”
“(We) have taken all steps possible to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the tour,” said Andy Weber, Chief Executive Officer of Farm Journal, the parent company of tour organizer Pro Farmer.
“It’s clearly a stressful time right now.”
Honig could not be reached for comment. Mark Warburton, the police chief in Spencer, Iowa, declined to say whether police would be at a tour meeting scheduled to take place in the city on Wednesday night.
Honig had been scheduled to attend a meeting later on Wednesday and speak at the tour’s final event in Rochester, Minnesota, on Thursday to answer questions about the government’s crop forecast, according to tour organizers.