Concerns about how South Carolina’s farmers will recover from October’s flooding dominated U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s field hearing on small business recovery on Friday in Columbia.
Scott, one of 19 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said he wanted to hear “real people tell real stories about real losses” so he could then encourage his colleagues in Washington, D.C., to “pay closer attention to the challenges that we face here at home in South Carolina.”
“If that’s successful, that means the numbers that we have within the budgeting process will be more consistent with the losses that we have experienced here at home,” Scott said during the session held in Columbia City Council chambers.
Turbeville farmer Jeremy Cannon gave an impassioned plea for help at the hearing, saying he and other South Carolina farmers have been devastated by the flooding, among other natural phenomena.
Cannon said he grows tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and cucumbers on his farm. Some of his crops were ruined by the drought this summer, he said. Then, many were wiped out when the historic storm in early October dumped about 20 inches of water onto his farm. More were lost in the rains that followed, “washing away all hope,” Cannon said during the hearing.
Cannon estimates he will lose nearly $500,000 because of the rains this year. He lamented that neither Federal Emergency Management Agency aid nor the U.S. Small Business Administration’s low-interest loans are available to cover crops lost to the flood. Cannon told Scott the state’s farmers need grant money to keep them afloat.
“I don’t think people realize how much farming means to rural communities and the devastating effect losing them will have if grant money does not become available soon,” Cannon said.
W. Jack Nettles, acting executive director of the South Carolina Farm Service Agency, estimated the state’s farmers have lost about $376 million in crops this year – not including losses to farmland, livestock or poultry.
A final number won’t be available until the state’s farmers fully understand their losses, said Nettles, a panelist in the hearing. That won’t happen until farmers either give up on this year’s crops or go to harvest, a process that has been delayed by the weather, Cannon said.
“This year has been a terrible year for farmers. ... There are going to be some farmers that, unfortunately, will not be able to pull out of this,” Nettles said.
Nettles said the FSA has programs to help with farmers’ recovery, including offering emergency low-interest loans. But those loans are available only to farmers who know how much they have lost, and many still don’t, Nettles said.
Farmers with crop insurance through the Risk Management Agency can receive coverage for most of what they lost, but “crop insurance is not a program that will make a farming operation whole after a devastating disaster like we’ve had this year,” Nettles said.
And for some farmers already living year to year, applying for a loan is impractical. Some farmers carried debt into this year and won’t be eligible for emergency loans because they can’t pay them back, Nettles said.
“With commodity prices like they are and the debt load that has already saddled a lot of these farm operations, it is just not going to be feasible to take on another loan,” Nettles said.
Cannon, during the hearing, said his family, heritage and future are hanging in the balance and that he came to Columbia on Friday hoping for a lifeline.
“This can’t be the end,” he said. “We need help – real help.”
Scott told Cannon during the hearing he would work with him on a solution. Cannon said that after speaking with Scott following the hearing, he thinks there is a “decent chance” there will be some funds appropriated for farmers in Congress’ omnibus spending bill.
Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass the bill.