Farmers get details about disaster help

VERONA – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working out details that will allow Northeast Mississippi farmers to apply for disaster assistance for 2009 crops.
U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Karis Gutter of the USDA met Tuesday morning with producers and local agricultural officials to talk about the newly released $550 million in crop assistance funding. An additional $80 million was released for aquaculture and poultry assistance.
About 30 people attended the meeting at the Mississippi State University Extension Service office in Verona.
Gutter, the senior adviser to the USDA secretary, said the sign-up procedure for funding will be announced in the next couple of weeks.
Distribution of the money will start in the next fiscal year, he said.
The funding will go to farmers who experienced at least a 5 percent decline in yield or quality because of last fall’s heavy rains. Qualifying crops are cotton, soybeans, rice and sweet potatoes.
For the program, the USDA will pay out $31.93 per acre for long grain rice, $52.46 for medium/short grain rice, $15.62 for soybeans, $155.41 for sweet potatoes and $17.70 for upland cotton.
“This assistance that you all are going to qualify for is not what we had hoped for but it’s so much better than nothing,” Childers said.
He said the amount is about one-third of what he had asked for to help farmers.
“What I hope this does is keep some of your heads above water,” he said to the producers at the meeting.
Last fall, 79 of Mississippi’s 82 counties were designated primary disaster areas due to extreme moisture. All 24 counties in the 1st Congressional District were declared primary disaster areas.
The sweet potato farmers were hit especially hard.
Benny Graves, the Vardaman-based executive secretary of the Sweet Potato Council, said three of his 96 commercial growers weren’t able to make it after last year’s crop.
“The good news this year is we’re back,” he said. “We’re making a crop. We’re still trying to overcome last year. … It’ll take more than one year to come back from a devastating year like last year.”
He said he appreciates sweet potatoes being included in the assistance because it is a high-cost crop.
“We’re all trying to feed America,” he said.
And things are looking up for sweet potato farmers, he said. The harvest is under way and is about 10 days to two weeks ahead of schedule.
“I’ve worked with sweet potatoes 30 years and this is one of the best quality sweet potatoes I’ve seen,” Graves said.
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal