Farm flooding

This farm in Darlington County shows the scope of the rain that fell in many parts of South Carolina during the first weekend in October.

Historic flooding last year submerged many fields in The Times and Democrat Region, damaging crops and preventing farmers from harvesting their produce.

The crop losses have left some area farmers wondering if they will be able to survive to farm another year.

Relief, however, could be on the way.

Last week, the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved legislation that would allow farmers to receive up to $40 million in state aid to stay afloat. The legislation is now being taken up in the House.

The legislation 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 have to prove they sustained a 40 percent loss, and the monies can only be used for direct crop inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and other expenses related to planting this year’s crops.

In order to distill the latest information in crop relief efforts, the Orangeburg and Calhoun County Farm Bureaus will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25 in Roqemore Auditorium at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College on U.S. 601.

“The flood put us in a financial burden, and crop insurance did not make us whole,” Orangeburg County Farm Bureau President Landrum Weathers said.

South Carolina Farm Bureau President Harry Ott and South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers will be involved in the meeting, which is open to all farmers and other interested parties.

The $40 million in the proposed bill would come from state surpluses so the money would not have to wait on the budget process. Farmers are also hoping to receive about $60 million from the federal government.

The House is slate to take up the proposed legislation next week.

The bill could then stall in the Senate. If it passes, the board the bill would create to evaluate applications and award the grants, would have 20 days in which to hold its first meeting.

State agriculture officials said the money would ideally be available in March, when corn planting begins, with the hope that supply stores are willing to extend short-term credit to farmers in anticipation of the monies being available.

Weathers said he thinks farmers will be appreciative of the state money.

“It has been a tough year, and any help is good,” he said. “Agriculture is our number one industry, and there are other industries getting help. We want to get some help too.”

Legislators in both chambers and parties have said the state needs to help farmers survive.

Last October’s torrential rains wiped out $330 million in crops at harvest time. Farmers lost an additional $45 million because they couldn’t plant winter crops in bogs, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Those figures don’t include losses from last year’s spring freeze and summer drought.

Farmers essentially lost their entire inventory after incurring a year’s worth of expenses, leaving many unable to pay operating loans that were due Dec. 31. State farm officials say 30 percent of farm loans through the Farm Service Agency in South Carolina are already delinquent.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said farmers shouldn’t be treated differently than other impacted businesses in South Carolina. She has said crop insurance should suffice, noting she’s asked the federal government to expedite the insurance claims.

Agriculture officials, however, say even farmers who paid the most for insurance didn’t recoup enough money to cover what it cost them to plant the crops.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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