MOULTRIE -- Farmers smacked by the hand of Mother Nature might receive federal aid if an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill passes.
In the face of Huricane Ivan, the U.S. Senate approved $2.99 billion in assistance for farm production losses caused by weather-related disasters during the 2003 and 2004 crop years.
Last week, there was very little chance of a disaster bill happening, even after Frances, said Jody Redding, Southwest Georgia regional director for Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga. However, when Ivan posed a direct threat to Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate agriculture committee and chairman of the subcommittee on Homeland Security, chose to attach the disaster funding to the homeland security bill going through the Senate this week. The bill now has to go to conference with the House before it can be sent to President Bush for his signature.
"It was a godsend, really," Redding said.
The amendment to the $33.8 billion for annual funding of the Department of Homeland Security was praised by Miller and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
During debate on the amendment Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., secured a commitment that $700 million would be added in conference for Florida ag losses, a National Cotton Growers Association report said.
Still, the cotton association fears that the White House might not readily accept routing that much aid to weather-beaten farmers, although Florida is a battleground state in the presidential election and is governed by Bush's brother.
Plus, Tuesday, the White House requested another $2 billion in emergency funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on top of the $2 billion appropriated last week for hurricane relief and cleanup efforts in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and elsewhere, the report said.
If passed, producers would receive emergency financial assistance for either the 2003 or 2004 crop years, but Redding thinks only a handful of area farmers would apply for 2003 assistance. It's the persistent rains and diseases suffered this year that will force farmers to seek aid.
"If they passed an ad hoc disaster program, that would be very beneficial, especially to our produce farmers," Farm Service Agency County Executive Director Joe Hester said. "If the disaster aid comes through, we'll be here to implement it -- take those applications and make those payments."
Production losses in excess of 35 percent would be eligible for the proposed aid, and local farmers are fast approaching that threshold, Redding said. Colquitt County soils have yet to dry out from 3.57 accumulated inches in August and 6.19 inches thus far this month measured at the local Georgia Forestry Commission office on Veterans Parkway.
"If we get any at all from Ivan, it's going to push up to 50 percent," Redding predicted.
County farmers hedging their bets have been picking cotton and digging peanuts the past several days trying to beat the outer bands of the hurricane, now headed for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. More rain might follow next week from Tropical Storm Jeanne headed up through the Caribbean along Georgia's Atlantic coastline.
A bird in the hand was preferable to some farmers. About 10 percent of 60,000 acres of cotton was picked damp and less than 5 percent of 16,000 acres of peanuts were picked green, Colquitt County Extension Service Agent Scott Brown said Wednesday.
"They used the best data they had available. It might have been a bad decision; it might have been a good decision. Right now, it looks like it might not have been the best move, but it may be if that rain comes here. It's hard to say," Brown said.