Legislation to help sweet potato farmers pending

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Sweet potato farmers, who lost much of their crop to heavy rains last year, could receive state help in getting loans under a bill that passed the House recently.
Only four members of the 122-member House voted against the proposal. The loan program legislation is now pending in the Senate Finance Committee.
Reps. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, and Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, said they hope the legislation receives quick attention because sweet potato farmers need to prepare to plant the current year’s crop in March.
And after the heavy rains of 2009 devastated their crop, many will not be able to stay in business if they do not receive loans.
About 12,000 acres of the 18,000 acres of Mississippi sweet potatoes are grown in Calhoun and Chickasaw counties, which are represented by Beckett and Sullivan.
“We’re not trying to give anything away,” Sullivan said. “They must go through the motions of getting a loan from a bank and they may not qualify.”
Under the program, the farmer could apply for a 2.5 percent interest rate loan. They would have five to seven years to repay the loan. The state would issue bonds to pay the bank in case of defaults.
Beckett said the farmers had a good crop last year but could not harvest it because of the heavy rains. By the time it was finally harvested, the moisture had damaged much of the crop.
“I had one farmer tell me he had 23 straight days of measurable rain” during the harvest season, Becket said.
The bill would allow sweet potato farmers to apply for of $1,700 per acre. That would cover about half of the production costs, excluding machinery.