S.C. farmers plead for immediate flood assistance

Historic rainfall and flooding in October resulted in $376 million in crop damage in South Carolina.

COLUMBIA — Hundreds of farmers traveled to the Statehouse on Monday to ask Gov. Nikki Haley to request immediate federal assistance to stave off bankruptcies and foreclosures after historic rains and flooding in October wiped out crops.

S.C. Farm Bureau President Harry Ott said before a news conference that farmers can’t relocate and reopen like flooded-out small businesses.

“We plant our crops in the spring, we spend money 11 months out of the year so that we can harvest one month out of the year,” Ott said. “We don’t get to make money those other 11 months, we have 100 percent of our money in the field at one time ... we didn’t have an opportunity but to spend money all year.”

Ott said crop insurance and commodity programs don’t provide the safety net they used to for farmers, especially those who already withstood a late frost and a stifling drought and can’t afford more debt.

Jeremy Cannon, a fourth generation farmer in the small Clarendon County town of Turbeville, said he’s out some $400,0000 in lost tobacco, soybeans and cotton on his 1,000 acres, which received 20 inches of rain and another 14 inches after the flood. He has crop insurance, he said, but it will likely only cover half the up-front costs to replant.

“We don’t have any option without federal assistance,” Cannon said. “We’re just waiting on that help, it’s potential bankruptcy.”

Overall, the deadly flooding that followed as much as 2 feet of rain overnight in early October caused $1.6 billion in damage to the state’s businesses, infrastructure, homes and economy. Agriculture losses have been estimated at $587 million of that.

Haley has made a request for expedited crop insurance claims to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the governor’s spokeswoman, Chaney Adams, said Monday that Haley does not intend to ask for supplemental funding for farmers.

“What the Farm Bureau has asked for is direct cash payments from the federal government to farmers who chose to be under-insured, something that no other industry in the state is asking for or will be receiving, and the governor does not believe we should treat farmers differently than any other business owners in South Carolina,” Adams said.

Before the farmers made their plea, a state Senate panel voted to urge Haley to request $376 million in supplemental funds from Washington for farmers.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said Haley did not support a similar request that he made to the South Carolina congressional delegation he made.

Weathers told senators that crop insurance would cover only about a third of the $376 million in direct crop damage, leaving cash-strapped farmers out $250 million. Even well-insured farmers likely won’t get back the money they put into planting their crops, Weathers said.

Reach Gavin Jackson at 843-708-1830.