Georgia farmers who suffered generational losses after Hurricane Michael last October will be able to apply to qualify for long-awaited federal aid Wednesday.
It took eight months for a federal aid package to pass, caught up in the government shutdown of early 2019, as well as a disagreement about how much funding should go to border security and to Puerto Rico, also recovering from hurricanes.
On Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture just announced, those farmers will be able to apply to receive some of the $3 billion aid package.
“U.S. agriculture has been dealt a hefty blow by extreme weather over the last several years, and 2019 is no exception,” Secretary of Agriculture and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
“The scope of this year’s prevented planting alone is devastating, and although these disaster program benefits will not make producers whole, we hope the assistance will ease some of the financial strain farmers, ranchers and their families are experiencing,” he said.
Georgia farmers experienced about $2.5 billion in agriculture and timber losses from the storm, including about 1 million acres of timber, nearly 100 chicken houses and 20% of Georgia’s pecan trees.
This is good news, said Andy Bell, a farmer in Decatur County in Southwest Georgia whose operation includes cotton, peanuts and cattle. But, he said, hopefully the funds will be distributed quicker than other aid programs, which are stalled.
“There’s no money flowing out of the [government] offices now, like for debris removal. Everybody has not been paid for that yet,” he said. “There’s just no money that’s been coming out of the [Farm Service Agency] office. I mean we have not received any money except crop insurance and private insurance companies.”
He said the state-funded Safety 21 loan program made a big difference in the meantime for farmers.
“We’re coming up on a year now. And nothing’s happened in a year, you might say,” Bell said. “And I know a lot of it’s political and it took forever to get it passed through Congress, and Secretary Perdue couldn’t do anything with it until they gave it to him.
“If we were to have another hurricane this year or something bad, it would devastate us.”
Even without a hurricane though, he has weather worries. He said the region is in desperate need of rain after about an eight-week drought.
“We can’t go much longer. We’re going to have to do something–the peanuts are about dead.”