Ag News

Disaster assistance bill not just help for farmers

By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau

To be sure, Southwest Georgia farmers welcomed the passage of the federal disaster aid package, which President Donald Trump signed into law on June 6. With Georgia agricultural damage from Hurricane Michael estimated at more than $2.5 billion, the farmers needed help.

During a meeting with national and state leaders on June 7 in Colquitt County, it was made clear that while the farmers will get help, ultimately the benefits of the legislation will be reaped by their communities.

“I think we’ve got to remember that this disaster bill brings money to the farmer,” said Andersonville produce farmer Dick Minor. “This money will go into our accounts and it’s going to be funneled out to banks, landlords, seed, chemical and fertilizer dealers, tractor and equipment dealers. It’s going to spur our rural economy.”

Indeed, many of the counties Michael blew through last October revolve around agriculture. In Sumter County, Minor pointed out, the economy is 86% agriculture, prompting one acquaintance to tell him it would affect everything down to the church collection plates.

“When you see unplanted fields, that’s not just a farmer not planting a crop. That’s a whole town losing income. Losing economic activity. Without that agricultural business going on, all those truck drivers, all those stores, all the car dealerships, they’re not doing well either. So the farmer has to be in business. Without the farmer in South Georgia, we have no economy.”

The meeting, held at the farm of Georgia Cotton Commission Chairman Bart Davis in Doerun, drew approximately 170 people and included remarks from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Reps. Sanford Bishop and Austin Scott, Sen. David Perdue, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. They all thanked farmers for their patience and perseverance and lauded efforts to get the bill passed.

To a man, they expressed frustration with the length of time it took to get the disaster assistance bill passed. David Perdue pointed out that after Hurricane Sandy in 2013, Congress took two months to pass a relief package. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it took two weeks. With an eye to the future, Georgia’s junior senator said the nation has to be better prepared.

“I think we need to have a bigger catastrophe reserve fund,” David Perdue said. “We have a FEMA reserve fund, but it’s just not able to deal with this type of disaster.”

Scott took the opportunity to direct attention to farmers’ emotional health.

“I want to tell you, I was very concerned about suicides,” Scott said. “Things we’ve seen in the past with farmers when we’ve had these problems … I was very thankful for things different organizations did to try to reach out to people where maybe they had heard there were some issues, where there was some pain there that people just needed help resolving. This shouldn’t have taken this long, but when you see somebody hurting as some of our neighbors have, make sure you reach out to them. They need to know there are other people here with them, too and there is always hope.”

The USDA, which was allotted $3.005 billion of the $19.1 billion bill, had not released details on how the money will be divided. In addition to Georgia farmers affected by Hurricane Michael, the funding was designated for a myriad of natural disasters in multiple states in 2018 and 2019. Scott said the general structure would be that crops eligible for traditional crop insurance programs would be assisted through payments under the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP). Other commodities, like timber and pecans, would be assisted through state-administered block grants.

More details will be released as they become available.