A state Senate panel is calling on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to seek additional money from Congress for farmers whose crops were destroyed by last month’s historic flooding.
The Special Committee Regarding Flood Relief Efforts sent a letter to Haley at the request of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, who said many small farms in the Midlands and Pee Dee would have to close without the help. Specifically, the letter is asking the governor to sway South Carolina’s congressional delegation to ask that the money be included in the omnibus spending bill the Senate is debating this week.
Haley has refused, however, with her spokeswoman saying the government should not bail out under-insured farms. Haley, Weathers, and a majority of the committee are Republican.
The state Department of Agriculture estimates the unprecedented October flooding caused at least $375 million in lost crops or fields that could not be planted. Much of that damage was row crops like peanuts, cotton, and soybeans, according to the Farm Services Agency’s South Carolina director Harry Ott.
“We spend money 11 months out of the year so that we can harvest one month out of the year,” Ott, a former Democratic legislator, told the committee shortly after their vote. “We don’t get to make money those other 11 months. We have 100 percent of our money in the field at one time.” Adding to the problem, Ott said, was that the ensuing bad weather and inaccessible muddy fields forced farmers to abandon those crops which had survived the floods.
Weathers argued federal crop insurance does not go far enough for those farmers who lost most of their harvest. The program reimburses farmers based on the market cost of planting the crops that were lost, but Weathers argued the actual losses were much higher. “If every farmer in South Carolina had picked the best crop insurance options available at that time, the crop insurance proceeds would still not cover the basic cost of putting that acre of corn, soybeans, peanuts, in the ground,” he told the committee.
Both Weathers and Ott warned small farms could be driven out of business if they lacked the collateral to finance another round of loans to replant new crops next spring. They hoped that a late-minute inclusion could be made in the federal budget without costing the state any money.
But the governor opposes the concept of bailing out farms that took high risks without proper insurance coverage, according to her spokeswoman Chaney Adams. “The governor does not believe we should treat farmers differently than any other business owner in South Carolina,” Adams told the Associated Press in a statement.
Farmers can apply for emergency, low-interest loans from the federal government through FEMA and the Small Business Administration. But Weathers said those loans come with restrictions — the farm operator must prove he or she cannot get credit from a private bank and must demonstrate the ability to pay off the loan.