Farmers say credit, insurance crisis killing them

VERONA – Mother Nature and the U.S. recession have created a perfect storm for Mississippi’s farmers, who made their problems and feelings known to federal officials Monday.
The farmers asked for help with credit, direct loss payments from Washington and monopolistic corporate consolidation.
“I know what a lot of you are going through,” said Michael Scuse, a Delaware farmer and U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. He told them he’s still got soybean acreage under water.
Some 100 farmers met with Scuse, U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville and others at the Lee County Agri-Center to hear about possible financial help from the U.S. Congress and to tell officials their specific problems.
Many, including Billy Spain of Prentiss County, said summer drought and fall rains had ruined their crops, and made insurance-required harvests a costly waste of time.
“My beans are just about totally ruined,” he said.
He and others complained that crop insurance regulations are costing them money, while the value of their crops has virtually disappeared.
Bennie Graves with the Sweet Potato Council said the collapse of this year’s crop because of fall rains also means job losses in the region.
“They’re not going to come back unless we can get loans,” he noted.
Childers and Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas recently introduced legislation to help farmers through the crop disaster, but Childers sounded concerned that it may not be fully dealt with before the Congress quits work for 2009.
“We’re just running out of time,” Childers said.
“If that happens, we’ll come right back with it after the New Year,” the conservative Democrat from Booneville told them.
He said he met Thursday with House leadership about the bill’s importance to farmers, who are running out of financial options.
But he said he’s hoping veteran U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, with extensive experience shepherding appropriations, can make a difference as the clock ticks away. Cochran has co-authored a similar bill with Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, chairman of that chamber’s Agriculture Committee.
Scuse heard specific problems from farmers, especially about the lack of credit and effective insurance, and said he will go back to Washington to seek solutions.
Seventy-nine of Mississippi’s 82 counties recently were declared agricultural disasters area with $485 million in losses due to the fickle weather patter this year. The declaration makes farmers in those counties eligible for extra federal support.
Scuse, who’s been on the job since April, said that when he arrived in Washington, the 2008 Farm Bill had not been implemented, and his office continued to prioritize its rollout.
Within that bill is a new approach to emergency aid, which Scuse said he hopes will be “a giant step forward” for more farmers in need.
He also noted the toll the recent recession has taken on USDA’s farm loan program, which paid out $1 billion last year.
“There’s every indication we’re going to need more money” next year, he said.
Farmers at the meeting told him they were having severe difficulties finding credit and getting satisfaction from their crop insurers.
A few complained about corporate monopolies costing them more for seeds.
“Where has Congress been the last 10 years to let this happen?” said businessman-farmer Mitchell Scruggs, who’s been sued by Monsanto over seed sales.
Scuse said USDA and the Department of Justice plan hearings to uncover what’s going on with corporate consolidation that affects all phases of farming.
He also said Secretary Tom Vilsack met about two months ago with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, seeking improved credit for rural America.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal