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USA - House budget chief promises to try to bail out farmers

The chairman of the House budget-writing committee said Tuesday he plans to propose aiding the state’s farmers who are facing a lean year or even bankruptcy after historic rains and floods in October wiped out their crops.

Funding details are still being worked out on the Palmetto Farm Aid bill that Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, plans to file when the Legislature returns in January to address the $376 million hit the agriculture industry took.

“Agriculture is our number one industry and our farmers are in desperate need,” White said. “There may be some federal government assistance available, but these measures fall far short of preventing many of our farmers from losing their farms and livelihoods.”

Even with U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest loans available to farmers, many are unable to take on new debt after losing their profits and even their up-front costs to summer drought and fall flooding.

Under the 2014 farm bill, crop insurance changed from a guaranteed direct payment system to one based on private crop insurance, underwritten by the government and commodity programs triggered by market prices or countywide average yields.

“Crop insurance is not true insurance and many crops are not insurable, so while it will cover some of the losses, it is an insufficient mechanism for insuring against catastrophic loss arising from a natural disaster,” White said.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley rejected calls to ask Congress for direct assistance for the state’s farmers, saying it was their responsibility to make sure they were adequately insured.

“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,” Haley’s spokeswoman, Chaney Adams, said earlier this month.

Hundreds of farmers rallied for aid in the Statehouse lobby earlier this month after a Senate flood committee meeting at which S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said farmers don’t have the option of being fully insured.

“If every farmer in South Carolina picked the best crop insurance options available at that time, the crop insurance proceeds still would not cover the basic costs,” Weathers said on Dec. 7.

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