U.S. Congressman Travis Childers (D-MS) and USDA Deputy Under Secretary Michael Scuse toured three hard-hit agricultural zones in North Mississippi on Monday and pledged their support to the state's growers impacted by this fall's unusually high rainfall.
Childers, who represents Mississippi's First Congressional District – including the tour cities of Verona, Vardaman and Batesville – also announced legislation that could offer millions of dollars of assistance to affected growers.
In November, 79 of Mississippi's 82 counties – including all 24 counties in the First Congressional District – were granted primary disaster designations due to excessive rainfall. The November rains, which totaled more than a foot in many areas across the state, damaged thousands of acres of crops, delayed harvests and caused destructive mold that rendered many crops unsalvageable.
"This has been an incredibly unusual year," Childers explained to a mixed group of about 100 growers, livestock producers, agricultural lenders and local officials who gathered at the Batesville Civic Center Monday afternoon.
"It has affected every single area of agriculture possible. I've seen the damage. Potatoes, cotton, we've seen it all."
"Here's the bottom line," he added. "I want to help you and I know what kind of shape you're in."
During his Batesville stop, Childers told growers he and Congressman Marion Berry (D-AR) had introduced HR 4177 proposing more than $800 million in grants and direct payment assistance for affected farmers and livestock producers. The Congressman also noted U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) had worked to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Childers said it was possible to have the House bill passed by year's end although doing so didn't appear to be a likely scenario.
"We're drumming up support in the House – especially among the Southern delegates," he explained. "If we can't get it done by the end of the year, I will make that the very first thing I do when I return after the first of the year."
Scuse, who explained impacts of extreme weather reached beyond the South, said USDA officials are working to get the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill's Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) implemented as quickly as possible to assist farmers in need.
Scuse said that amidst economic concerns and natural disasters such as the November rains that plaques the Southeast, farm credit applications had reached a record high among the nation's farmers in 2009. He said more than $4 billion in FSA credits were issued in 2008 and more than an additional $1 billion was added to the budget for 2009.
I don't think the demand we saw this year is going to touch what we're going to see next year," Scuse explained. "I would be shocked if last year's figures come close to next year's figures."
Scuse, who acknowledged delays when questioned about schedules for SURE payments, also warned growers that because of the recent crop disasters, securing farm financing early would be essential to growers being able to plant on time or at all in 2010.
"It will be critical this year to sit down with your banker and establish your credit for next year, as soon as possible," Scuse cautioned. "That is going to be an issue, and we are genuinely concerned about it."