Times and Democrat
March 10, 2016
The losses suffered by South Carolina’s farmers in 2015 are well documented: Drought and then flooding, with the final result a disaster of major proportions.
Last October’s torrential rains wiped out $330 million in S.C. crops at harvest time. Farmers lost an additional $45 million because they couldn’t plant winter crops in bogs, according to the S.C. Department of Agriculture. Counting losses from the spring freeze and summer drought, the total loss is estimated near $600 million.
Debate continues on what if any help farmers will receive. But time is short.
South Carolina Farm Bureau President and Calhoun County farmer Harry Ott recently told The Times and Democrat that aid to farmers must arrive soon if many are to have money to plant crops for 2016. “If we don’t get the crops planted in March, April and May, our window of opportunity closes again until next year.”
With no crop this year, some farmers won’t be around for 2017.
The South Carolina House has approved legislation that would allow farmers to receive up to $40 million in state aid to stay afloat. The bill would allow farmers to apply for grants of up to $100,000 each. The grants could equal 20 percent of a farmer’s total loss.
Farmers would have to prove they sustained a 40 percent loss, and the state money could only be used for direct crop inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and other expenses related to planting this year’s crops.
The $40 million would come from state surpluses, so the money would not have to wait on the budget process to conclude in May or June.
But there are catches.
The state Senate is bogged down over the issue of road repairs, and the most recent proposal to use state surplus money for that purpose further complicates approval of the House legislation awaiting consideration.
And there is opposition from Gov. Nikki Haley, who contends farmers should not be treated differently than other flood-impacted businesses in South Carolina. She has said crop insurance should suffice, noting she’s asked the federal government to expedite insurance claims.
Agriculture officials say even farmers who paid the most for insurance didn’t recoup enough money to cover what it cost them to plant the crops.
Making matters worse, the $60 million in assistance expected from the federal government for farmers remains in doubt.
So with the weather warming and the planting season nearly at hand, the state’s farmers have reason to worry about economic survival. The 2016 crop is vital, and farmers must receive some kind of assistance to make it happen. Making sure they get it is a matter of major importance to the state’s economy.
An advocate for small business, Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, makes the special case for helping farmers. He states:
“Your typical small business was able to ride out the losses on their own. Over 480 did take out a low interest (4 percent for 20 years) Small Business Administration loan to get over the temporary setback.
“Then there is farming. …Most of the farms in our state are small businesses. They are an essential part of the economy for many of our struggling rural communities. Growing our local farms should be one of our tools to revitalize the economies of our poorer counties. …
“Gov. Haley, do not hide behind fairness to other impacted small businesses as an excuse not to offer some special help to our farmers, especially our small family-owned farms that might be permanently out-of-business due to their flood losses.
“The small businesses of our state do not object to grants for our farmers and certainly don’t want to be used as reason for your short-sighted policy decision to deny them these federal flood-relief funds.”