Farmers need extra help with Florence losses

Every farmer knows this, and so does everyone who’s ever lived in farm country: Agriculture lives in a boom-or-bust economy. One year, corn prices are high. The next year, the bottom falls out. Soybeans are going great until the international market sours, and then they’re a loss-leader. Milk? Pork? Eggs? Same thing. Every industry has its ups and downs, but in agriculture, the inclines are often much steeper.

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But this year? Who could have seen Florence coming? And it turns out that as agricultural profit killers go, Florence was a perfect storm.

Florence was just the right combination of timing and severity. The storm poured a foot of two of water onto crops that don’t take well to drowning and transformed them from just-ready-for-harvest to something that needs to be plowed under. Tobacco growers said that the drenching, followed by sunshine, left them with leaves “melting on the stalk” — disintegrating, and definitely not harvestable.

We already know, too, that millions of chickens and turkeys, and thousands of hogs, drowned in the flooding.

The losses will be enormous. “I think it’s easily going to be in the billions of dollars,” North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler told an Associated Press reporter last week. It won’t be until the end of this week that the state has firm estimates of the damage, but Troxler isn’t optimistic, since five of this state’s top six farming counties were among the hardest-hit by the hurricane and flooding.

Hurricane Matthew delivered a nasty blow to farmers in 2016, but it was nothing like this. That’s because timing is everything. Matthew hit a few weeks later in the farm year, after many crops had been harvested. But Florence was earlier, arriving as many harvests had barely begun. “This hurricane couldn’t have come at a worse time,” North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said. The winds made a mess of the unharvested cotton crops and the flooding likely wiped out huge portions of the peanut and sweet potato crops in the eastern part of the state.

What are farmers to do? For one thing, they can collect on their crop insurance, which many of them wisely carry. Craven County farmer Jason Jones told a reporter that “Farmers have just faced several years of low commodity prices. Matthew came through ... and now we’re faced with Florence.” He’s got insurance, he said, but it won’t cover his total loss. “For eastern North Carolina farmers,” he said, “we’re hanging by a thread.”

That was one of the messages Gov. Roy Cooper delivered to President Trump Wednesday when the president toured some storm-battered eastern North Carolina towns. Making farmers whole is going to take more than a “farm bill,” Cooper told the president. “We’re going to have to take a special approach to our farm communities, because they have taken a gut punch.”

That should start with legislation that will help replace more of the farmers’ losses than their crop insurance will cover. They’ll need help replacing damaged structures and equipment, as well. And a sound long-term plan will do more. Farmers need more federal assistance with their crop insurance policies over the long haul. We’ve reached the point where we plan for this kind of weather, just as climate scientists have told us we should. That’s not fake news, it’s the new reality that our farmers — and all of us — have to live with.

Since we all need to eat, it’s in everyone’s best interest that we take action that insures farmers’ survival.

— The Fayetteville Observer

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