Childers pushing for timely disaster assistance

Mississippi Rep. Travis Childers still hopes to approve timely financial assistance for Mid-South commodity producers whose crops were devastated by 3 feet or more of rain that fell during harvest the season.

“The bottom line is that I want to help,” said Childers, during a disaster tour of north Mississippi in mid-December with USDA Deputy Under Secretary Michael Scuse. “It’s a jobs situation, and it’s a financial situation.”

Childers and Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry have introduced legislation to provide timely disaster assistance to producers facing severe crop losses from excessive rains. See Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran have also introduced legislation. See

Childers told producers gathered at the Batesville Civic Center in Batesville, Miss., that he hopes to have something passed by the end of 2009 or early in 2010.

“We’ve drummed up support in the House, mostly from those in areas that were affected by the excessive rainfall. But we’re getting close to the end of the year and we’re getting close on opportunities to get this legislation attached to a bill. There is still a possibility to get it done before this year is gone, but I don’t want to mislead anybody. If we can’t get it done, the day we go back into Washington in January, Marion Berry and I will get back to work on it.

“I’ve seen the damage. I’ve seen how critical it is. I’ve seen the crops sitting in the fields. I’ve seen the beans that rotted in the field.”

Scuse, himself a farmer of corn, soybeans and wheat in his home state of Delaware, said harvest issues were a concern in the Mid-South and the Midwest, “where there are still soybeans left in the field with snow in them. Scuse added, “Saturday morning on my own farm, I still had 100 acres of soybeans left in the field. So I fully understand what everyone is going through.

“Unfortunately, Washington does not work as quickly as state governments in getting regulations and programs implemented. It takes a great deal of time to get things through the process.”

Scuse said a big concern is producers getting credit squared away in time for next year’s crops. “In 2009, the Farm Service Agency put out an additional $1 billion in credit. Over $4 billion in credit went out of FSA last year. This year, having seen what’s happened in Mississippi and neighboring states and up north, I don’t believe the money we put out last year will come close to what the demand will be.

“Credit is going to become more and more difficult to obtain. It’s more important today than it’s ever been. I urge each and every one of you to work as closely with your banker as you can. If need be, come to your FSA office and sit down with loan officers. We have direct loans, guaranteed loans, and 79 counties in Mississippi have been declared disaster areas. After this meeting, go home and get your financial statements together and start looking at how you’re going to obtain credit and what your needs are going to be for this next crop year. Don’t put it off until the springtime. Sit down with your banker as quickly as possible.”

Sledge Taylor, a Panola County farmer, noted that his area “received 600 percent of the average rainfall for Aug. 15 through October, which is our primary harvest season for cotton, rice, soybeans, corn, milo and sweet potatoes. We’ve already had 73 inches of rain and that’s over 6 feet of rain for the year.

“We’re grateful to Congress and USDA for recognizing the need for disaster provisions in the farm bill. But in my view, while SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program) is conceptually sound, there are some problems with it. In this type of situation, it doesn’t provide adequate relief, and it does not have the potential to bring assistance to farmers in a timely manner. It could take a year from now for assistance to come and that’s a big problem for farmers who need funds today or very soon.”

An agricultural lender in the audience said some farmer-customers who had disasters in 2008 “are still waiting on SURE forms. The bankers will work with the farmers if we can get some assurance of what’s going to happen. Knowledge of what is going to happen is just as important as the dollars.”

“If Secretary Vilsack had had his way, we would have had the SURE program out weeks ago with the forms,” Scuse said in response to the concerns. “We’re ready at USDA to roll that program out. We haven’t gotten issues worked out with OMB (Office of Management and Budget) yet. That’s what the holdup is right now.”

Childers says he is pitching disaster relief to Congress as a jobs issue. “There are workers who are gone. Trucks are sitting still. It is a jobs issue. This is not just about assisting producers. It’s more far-reaching than that.”

John Thomas, who farm corn, soybeans and wheat in Panola County, Mississippi, with his father, Lent, said, “We had a good soybean crop made, and it just ruined in the field. We had our beans booked for $10 and ended up getting $5 for them after all the dockage. We got everybody paid and I think we’re going to be fine for next year.”

Coley Bailey, who farms all cotton in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, said his crop went from being one of his best ever to one of the worst. “On Sept. 1, we had the best crop we’ve ever had. We were looking at 1,400 pounds to 1,500 pounds of cotton. Then we recorded 35 inches of rain from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15. By the time we started picking on Nov. 2, we picked 550 pounds. Our five-year average is around 1,000 pounds. Looking at our grades we lost an additional $40 per bale.

“Timeliness is very important,” in regard to disaster assistance, Bailey said. “Farmers need to shore up their finances for the crop they just harvested. We need to get help in the farmers’ hands as quickly as possible. Our lenders don’t want to hear that the SURE program is not paying out until 2011.”

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