Local News

N.C. Congressman Wants Federal Disaster Relief for Farmers

Posted October 22, 2007

— Crops withered in fields show where the drought has dried up tens of thousands of farmers' dollars. One North Carolina congressman has been leading a push to get federal disaster relief for drought-affected farmers.

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, sent a letter Sept. 25 requesting that President George W. Bush add disaster assistance payments to farmers to his supplemental budget requests for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A bipartisan group of 54 members of Congress signed the letter.

"I happen to believe that our agricultural opportunities here in food and fiber for America are as much a part of our national defense as is protecting our interests overseas," Etheridge said.

North Carolina farmers are already counting their losses. Peanut production is down about 20 percent from this time last year. Hay production has been cut nearly in half, and soybean production is down by more than a third.

"My guess is all over the Southeast, you'll see an awful lot of that," said Wake County farmer Jerry Jordan, pointing to the withered crops in his fields.

"I'm not sure the average North Carolinian that doesn't get out on the farm every day, like Jerry does, understands it," said Etheridge, who toured Jordan's farm Monday to see and hear firsthand about the effects of the drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 85 North Carolina counties disaster areas on Sept. 14, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans. Etheridge wants farmers also to be able to get direct disaster assistance payments. Those would come as grants that do not have to be paid back.

"No. 1, it's the right thing to do," Etheridge said. "And No. 2, it will mean that some of these farmers who are on the edge will be able to continue to farm.

"You see what the the problem with loans is. If you don't have anything to bridge the gap now till next year, you will certainly need some grants to get over the hump."

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the effects of the drought in North Carolina and other Southeastern states. Etheridge has been pushing Congress to offer federal disaster grants to farmers quickly.

"I guarantee you I'm going to stand in front of a truck if they don't," he said.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said his office has been working closely with Etheridge and other Congressional members to come up with plan that makes sure farmers get the help they need.

Jordan, who grows sweet potatoes, tobacco and soybeans, estimated the drought has cost him $112,000 in losses this year.

"We just hope we can maintain and keep going," he said. "It's just a hard, hard row to hoe."


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  • NC is my home Oct 23, 2007

    If the movie stars and other billionaires in CA can get relief, our farmers, who work hard to feed the nation for little or no money should have it!

  • doodad Oct 23, 2007

    For example: By "farms" I mean Miss Nora's farm consists of 16 acres divided by two ditches. Mr. Lee's farm I rent down the road consists of 20 acres. Mr. Johnson's farm 8 miles down the road consists of 30 acres. A farmer who tends 2000 acres may rent farms from as many as 100 people or more scattered across 3 or 4 counties in NC. Irrigation systems are not realistic.

  • doodad Oct 23, 2007

    Steve, it is rare for someone to produce that much corn per acre, even under center pivot irrigation. And don't forget there are also input costs to growing that corn. Many fields in NC are small acreages and center pivot irrigaton is not practical. They can be as small as 3 acres and with encroaching homes and business in Wake, Johnston, and Harnett counties, these small fields are very realistic. Even north and west of the Triangle, fields are more sloped and so small that they would not benefit from irrigation systems. (Square mile section is 640 acres or 1/4 section is 160 acres) Farms east of the also have small acreages. Plus, we are not sitting on top of an underground aquifer like in the Midwest (Ogalala for one) and installing irrigation systems would only dry up shallow wells that many residents in rural areas depend upon. It is a lawful violation to allow livestock access to ponds, rivers and streams, so there is no simple answer to our problems.

  • doodad Oct 23, 2007

    Thank you, gpd.

  • gpd Oct 23, 2007

    I cannot believe the attitude towards people who grow your food for you! It's like the water attitude. Where are you going to get it when it's actually gone! Really and truly GONE! In my youth, I was proud to see FARM AID come to fruition, and in the same breath I was astounded to know that people who chose the profession of providing food supplies to the citizens of our country were so "forgotten". And it's not just food, here we are screaming for ethanol production to finally get off the foreign oil, and criticizing the very people who will be the first step in providing that for enduring a drought and suffering crop loss. It's amazing how this generation decides where support should go. I couldn't imagine what kind of state this country would be in had this generation been the mass during the Great Depression. Our priorities are way out of whack!

    Doodad, thank you for what you do, I sincerely hope that farmers get some help from the government.

  • atozca Oct 22, 2007

    "One North Carolina congressman has been leading a push to get federal disaster relief for drought-affected farmers"... wonder if we can get federal disaster relief for illegal-affected construction workers?

  • Steve Crisp Oct 22, 2007

    And yes, irrigation systems are a cost of doing business and should be required under any good business plan. Let's take corn for instance. Say you have 500 acres. Without rain, you're yield is essentially zero. With irrigation, you can yield 250 to 300 bushels per acre at a going rate of $3.80 per bushel at harvest. For 500 acres of land, that is a gross income of between $500,000 and $600,000 for that current growing year. The cost of a full irrigation system for that land is in the neighborhood of $350,000, less if you go center pivot, more if you go linear roller. But that expense can be amortorized out over ten to twenty years, so your effective cost per year goes to $20,000 to @40,000 depending on interest rates. That's 20 cents per bushel on the high side, roughly comparable to the cost of a combine (rent or purchase) which is a given for a farm that size. With that, your cost for crop insurance goes way down because you no longer have to insure against drought.

  • Steve Crisp Oct 22, 2007

    No. No. No.

    No grants to any business - ever. Loans are acceptable, but never any grants or bailouts. If a businessman, farmer or otherwise, can not figure out how to mitigate anticipated damages, he does not need to be in business.

  • doodad Oct 22, 2007

    jf, my employer pays for ALL my insurance, not just 50%, but that increase effects his bottom line, therefore effects any salary increase I might have looked forward to. Thanks, BCBS for taking my pay raise to pay for the medical costs of the uninsured.

  • doodad Oct 22, 2007

    jf, if you can figure out how grow ANYTHING from the dirt without water, please inform me and while you're at it, NCSU might can use the advice. This year, all the baskets came up empty.