S.C. legislators can help farmers

Harry Ott
SCFB President

We have become all too familiar with the recent widespread natural disasters. Farmers, in particular, would really like to forget. Believe me.

Since 2015, South Carolina farmers have started from ground zero over and over with each new plant and harvest season. From Matthew and Irma, to Florence and Michael, the damage done on farms and ranches across the state over the past several years due to natural disasters has left farm families struggling. Coupled with the downturn in the farm economy, many of South Carolina’s farmers and ranchers may not survive without aid.

The two most recent hurricanes walloped Palmetto State farmers with estimated damage of $205 million. Farms of all sizes were affected. And the disasters have not been limited to the Southeast.

Across the nation, farmers have dealt with wildfires, a volcanic eruption, two Category 4 hurricanes, an earthquake, tornadoes and major flooding. Similar to South Carolina, agriculture is a major contributor to the economy in most of the affected states.

While some assistance may be available for livestock and crop farmers through USDA disaster aid programs, much of the damage will not be covered through assistance or insurance. Farmers are calculated risk-takers, but these exceptional situations cannot be planned for.

In spite of the widespread impacts of these natural disasters, national political pandering has once again left farmers hamstrung while deeply divided groups in D.C. wait on the other to blink. Food is a nonpartisan issue, and relief for those who feed our state, nation and world should not be held hostage to politics.

I have heard from so many that they aren’t sure how they’ll make it another year. Generations of hard work and sweat and prayers will be sold off piece by piece so homes can be saved and some dignity salvaged in the process. Farm income is down 50 percent over the last four years, and with low commodity prices fueled by tariffs and market uncertainty, who could blame farmers for being pessimistic.

While the national political storm rages on, we have a potential saving grace. South Carolina legislators have the opportunity to step up to the plate when others will not. South Carolina Farm Aid, created in response to the flood in 2015, gave farmers hope and the means to see another planting season.

Currently, the S.C. Senate budget includes a $25 million proviso designated for farm aid. Please know, this aid will only cover a small portion of the damage accrued over the past four years, but it could be the light at the end of the tunnel that our farmers need to continue on.

Farmers do not want to ask for help. They want to till the earth, sow the seeds and watch their crops grow. They want to continue to provide for their families and communities, but this is a situation beyond their control. I urge the South Carolina General Assembly to offer a helping hand to our friends and neighbors who desperately need this aid. Without it, farmers will face a disaster beyond the weather.

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