The Buzz

House panel approves $40 million in flood aid for farmers

Water still covered a large portion of a peanut crop at a Holly Hill farm in December.
Water still covered a large portion of a peanut crop at a Holly Hill farm in December.

The S.C. House’s budget panel approved using $40 million from a reserve account Wednesday to offer state aid to farmers whose crops were washed away during October’s historic flooding.

If approved, farmers could recover up to 20 percent of their loss — up to $100,000 — via a grant, money that would not have to be repaid.

The state’s agriculture sector suffered losses of almost $400 million because of the flood. Crop insurance is expected to cover only about a third of those losses, state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers has said.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, sponsored the grant proposal, which passed his committee unanimously.

The payouts from grants and crop insurance combined could not exceed 100 percent of a farmer’s loss. In addition, eligible farmers must have lost at least 40 percent of a crop due to the flood and be located in a county declared a disaster.

The grant program would be administered by a seven-member board, chaired by Weathers.

“Agriculture is a unique business plan,” said Farm Bureau president Harry Ott, former House minority leader.

Farmers spend money on crops from January to September hoping to profit from the fall harvest. October is the state’s biggest harvest month, Ott said, adding crops were mature in the field when the historic flood occurred. “We lost the vast majority of our crops in the field,” Ott said, adding farmers need assistance now so they can afford to put more crops in the ground for next fall.

The proposal next moves to the full S.C. House, which is off next week.

Farm groups have urged Gov. Nikki Haley to request assistance for farmers from the state’s congressional delegation. But Haley’s office has balked, saying the request is for direct cash payments to farmers who chose to be underinsured.

Haley is asking the federal government for $140 million to repair flood-damaged housing. 

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope