Opinion Extra

Hope again for SC farmers

Thad Wimberly and Jonathan Berry inspect the damage to a field of peanuts in Branchville following the October floods.
Thad Wimberly and Jonathan Berry inspect the damage to a field of peanuts in Branchville following the October floods. AP

Even though the General Assembly overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of the Palmetto Farm Aid bill with near-unanimous support, for many of our farmers — and for me personally — it was an emotional, bittersweet victory.

$40 million farm-aid proposal becomes law overHaley’s veto

I say bittersweet because before we achieved the victory, we had to endure a devastating flood, an unwilling governor and a chorus of misinformed talking points and insults about our farmers. We were told we made bad business decisions. We were accused of seeking bailouts and handouts. And we were told there would be no disaster aid for agriculture.

The emotional toll this rhetoric took on our farming community was as heartbreaking as the flood itself. Multi-generational family farms across the state were put in jeopardy, and our farmers were left wondering if they could farm another year. As weeks went by and more rain fell, it seemed the gray clouds over our heads would never leave. Our confidence was shaken, and our hope was growing dimmer.

But like farmers do every day of our lives, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work; this time, we went to work on our elected officials in Congress and the General Assembly. Farmers all over the state, regardless of the flood’s impact on their farm, came together to educate our elected leaders, invited them to our farms and told them our stories.

There’s nothing fair about a flood, or the governor’s veto

We first asked our congressional delegation for federal assistance. With the strong leadership of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Reps. Tom Rice, James Clyburn and Joe Wilson, Congress inserted disaster assistance into December’s spending bill, with some of it intended for agriculture. Even though Gov. Haley ultimately blocked the money intended for S.C. farmers, we would never even have had a chance at any federal aid if it were not for these champions of agriculture.

With farmers running out of options, our efforts turned to the General Assembly. The Democratic and Republican leadership from the House and Senate spearheaded an incredible effort to pass the farm aid bill. The House and Senate passed H.4717 the first time around with overwhelming, bipartisan supermajorities. They listened to farmers and business leaders. They took the time to understand that agriculture is unlike any other industry in our state. And they set politics aside to help our farmers.

Video: Farmers discuss farm aid bill vetoed by Gov. Haley

When the governor vetoed the bill despite the strong showing in the General Assembly, it was yet another setback. But farmers don’t allow things to die, and we certainly were not going to let the farm aid bill die. The grassroots efforts kicked into high gear. Farmers young and old showed up at the State House and pleaded one last time with the Legislature. It was an incredible sight to see more than 75 farmers in the balcony of the House chamber applauding the 112 legislators who stood up for farmers. And hearing almost every senator call out “aye” is a sound I will never forget.

As a family farmer who stood shin-deep in flood waters in my own fields, I found it inspiring to see a near-unanimous showing of support by our state legislators. The farm aid bill has injected new life into the agriculture industry, and our hope for the future now grows brighter. Our farmers will be able to access disaster relief that will help them survive. The bill is a lifeline for the agriculture industry, bolstering the backbone of our state’s economy.

With the bill’s passage, we will now turn our efforts to ensure the disaster relief gets to as many flood-impacted farmers as quickly as possible. Farm Bureau is here to assist any farmer who needs help recovering from the flood. We will work with Clemson University, the state Department of Agriculture and the Farm Aid Advisory Board to ensure transparency and efficiency.

There is hope again for our farmers. We can now move on from the flood and focus on this year’s crops. We are praying for good weather and a bountiful harvest so that we can continue to feed South Carolina.

Mr. Ott is, a row crop farmer from Calhoun County and former House member who serves as president of the S.C. Farm Bureau Federation; contact him at harryott@scfb.org.