Local Politics

Easley Asks Federal Aid for Drought-Stricken Farmers

Posted October 25, 2007

— Gov. Mike Easley went to Capitol Hill Thursday to push for federal grants to North Carolina farmers who have lost much of their crops in the ongoing statewide drought.

In testimony to the House Agriculture Committee, Easley said this summer's baking heat and the dearth of rain combined to devastate crop yields and put farmers in danger of losing their livelihoods. The state has experienced about $325 million in crop losses, and the number is growing, he said.

"As North Carolina is drying up, our state's No. 1 industry is also suffering," he said. "The bottom line is that our farmers need more money. They do not need more loans that they will be unable to repay when their crops fail to bring in enough income. They need grants so they will be able to continue to farm next year and many years into the future."

Easley cited statistics to demonstrate the drought's impact on North Carolina farmers:

  • Soybean yields are projected at 20 bushels per acre, which is the poorest yield since 1983.
  • Peanuts are down 800 pounds per acre from last year.
  • Hay production is off by about 45 percent.
  • The cotton crop is experiencing a lower-quality crop in addition to lower yields.
  • The corn crop was expected to be the largest in decades, but yields are almost 90 bushels per acre lower than last year.

"Boosted by good prices and nationwide interest in ethanol production, our farmers planted 1.1 million acres of corn. But lack of rain has stunted growth, and extreme temperatures have wilted the plants," he said.

The empty fields on James Sharp's Wilson County farm back up Easley's assessment. The fields would normally be filled with cabbage in October, but Sharp said he cut back his planting this fall because of the drought.

"We just cut back the acres, limited it to just the acres we could irrigate," he said, adding that he plans to expand his irrigation system next spring in case the drought continues. "All the crops have suffered from the drought and the extreme heat, and it will make a difference on our bottom line."

Easley noted that the drought is the worst North Carolina has seen since records started being kept in 1895. About 250 water systems statewide have adopted voluntary or mandatory water restrictions to conserve as much as possible, he said, but forecasts call for a drier-than-normal winter, putting more pressure on the state's agriculture industry.

"If we don't replenish our lakes and ponds and streams during the winter, then we're really going to face some tremendous challenges in the spring," the governor said.

State officials are putting plans in place to handle the growing crisis, he said, including more pipe connections between counties and cities to transfer water, using treated wastewater for irrigation and possibly using the National Guard and private contractors to haul water to the neediest areas. Officials also are looking at offering tax credits to businesses that conserve and recycle water, he said.

"Unless we can figure out a way to make it rain – and I am not joking here – the conservation measures, both voluntary and even ordered by local governments, probably will not be enough to revive the entire industry," he said. "We're going to have to have some assistance this year. The farmers just aren't going to be able to continue."

Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared 85 counties in North Carolina disaster areas, farmers in those counties and 11 neighboring counties are eligible for low-interest, emergency loans.

Second District Congressman Bob Etheridge, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, agreed with Easley that loans aren't enough. He also wants farmers to get grants that they do not have to pay back.

"This committee, we're not looking at loans; we're looking at assistance," the Harnett County Democrat said. "If we can help people around the world, we sure can help our farmers who help pay the taxes in this country."

Sharp said government grants are crucial to the survival of many eastern North Carolina farmers like himself.

"In agriculture, we're already working with very slim margins to start with, and when Mother Nature's completely against us in a season, we certainly need all the help we can get to move forward for next year," he said.

Etheridge called the drought a national disaster that calls for a federal response. Drought relief hasn't been included in a supplemental appropriation bill now winding through Congress, and he said Thursday's testimony could help encourage more members of Congress to support adding it to the bill.

"We'll have to do whatever is necessary to keep farmers in business in this country, or else we will become a second-rate country pretty quickly," he said. "When (Hurricane) Katrina hit, we responded. When 9/11 hit, we responded. That's what we as Americans do, and that's what Congress should do."

Eighth District Congressman Robin Hayes said the wildfires that have raged in California this week could provide a platform for approving emergency money for drought relief.

"The two put together ... should be heard loud and clear," the Cabarrus County Republican said.

The committee also heard testimony from USDA meteorologists, who said drought conditions across the Southeast will last until at least the end of January.

"I hope you are wrong," Etheridge said, noting that maps provided little encouragement on the future of the drought.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • djofraleigh Oct 26, 2007

    The reality is that this is the year before the election and the whole southeast is going to want the money, free, and all of it they can get, and money going out buys votes next fall so they are going to get it, just as California - the number 1 electorial state -- is going to get a bunch too. If this happened same time next year...forget it.

    Why are the landscapers, lawn mowers etc. going to get some too?

  • weasleyes Oct 26, 2007

    I have plowed with a mule, and when you busted up one acre a day, with that onery creature, you had done some work! Now, we can't struggle through a dry spell! Give everybody some money! Everything is a disaster! We cannot live without the federal government. This country has gone to Hades! I was a sharecropper young'un, went to school 10 years at night to get my degree, working 50-60 hours during the day .... have crawled in snake-filled swamps with the SF, have been shot at ... when are we going to learn to live through hard times without government assistance? Thank you, God, for the rain we have received.

  • lukie Oct 25, 2007

    Okay, what would happened if all the farmer parked their equipment under the shelter, did not harvest any vegetables & fruits & stopped fishing for 1 yr? Stopped sending beef & pork to slaughter, stopped milking cows, stopped raising poultry(turkey at Thanksgiving)for 1 yr. Did not cut any Christmas trees, did not pick any cotton to make your cotton dress shirts for your job is going to be there every day that you get pd every week, every other week, or once a month. The farmer gets paid once a yr if then at all. It takes $500 a acre to plant cotton for your clothes that you wear to your office. The farmer has to yield 750 lb to the acre at 67 cent a lb to break even. How days would people get up and go to their jobs and pay their employers to work. Point being is that's what farmers bascially do. Okay I have said my last say.

  • freespeech Oct 25, 2007

    We do need to help them out.We have quit supporting every industry out there that was once the backbone of our country.Where has it got us?Textiles,manufacturing,etc.Heck,last time I was in Walmart I saw that apples from China were 60 cents a pound and flounder was $2.79 a pound.Both were products of China.Who would have thought apples grew in China.Who can compete with this?Look how dependent we are on foreign goods and services (just stop by Walmart or fill up your car).Do we want to get to the point where we are 90% dependent on others for food as well?The growing concensus in this country seems to be "God forbid it if someone actually gets any type of help."This goes from everything from the S-Chip to education,adjustable rate mortgages to small business ownership.Obviously, there are a lot of people out there that haven't been humbled by life like a lot of us have.Food is a necessity and wouldn't it make good business sense that we take a stand for the farmers of this state?

  • lynddsy Oct 25, 2007

    easley should help bail them out. if he had put tighter restrictions on the water use then maybe it wouldn't have hurt the farmers so bad. the heavy duty water restrictions didn't go into effect till this month when the grass is going to die anyway. who has he been trying to please?

  • lgboro Oct 25, 2007

    Taxpayers seek relief from Weasley!!!!!

  • Trivr Oct 25, 2007

    Why in the world do we need to spend more taxpayer money here? It's one season of uncooperative weather! That's what farming is. When we lost everything for two years in a row from flooding, we didn't expect the government to come hold our hand. We dealt with it through insurance and belt-tightening.

    Compassion is not taking people's money Governor Easley.

  • nofear Oct 25, 2007

    I am all in for helping the farmers. I guess we do not need to help the winery out. The grapes are fine for wine this year.
    Good luck to the farmers and everyone that uses their products.

  • lukie Oct 25, 2007

    As a farmer myself we do rotate our crops. I would not eat produce shipped from outside of the USA. Just remember where all of us came from and how we survived.....our forefathers tended the land and here we are. Yes the future without the farmer will not good. So they need to be helped when needed.

  • doodad Oct 25, 2007

    3labs, if you had 100 cows and had to sell 50, (you paid $1000 for a bred cow and sold her at cull prices for $0.45/pound) you would loose $550 ($27,500) on your initial investment because you borrowed $100,000 from the bank. The bank expects your payment next year and the year after that, even though you only have 50 calves to sell. A conservative annual cow cost (feed, fertilizer, land rent, labor, etc.) is $400, so my friend your business management skills will bankrupt you before the drought would.