Local farmers look to D.C. for help

Mississippi farmers facing catastrophic crop losses after heavy fall rains hope to see extra disaster relief funded by Congress.

Dr. Lester Spell, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, said he has asked the Mississippi congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to go beyond normal programs to help farmers seeing double devastation in 2009 — flooding in the spring and the fall — after 2008, which was a tough year as well.

Losses are on the horizon in soybean, cotton, sweet potato, corn and rice crops. The state’s pecan crop looks better than average this year, though extended periods of rain are threatening to delay that harvest, too.

Economists at Mississippi State University estimate farm losses have reached $485 million. Nearly 64 percent of the state’s sweet potato crop — valued at nearly $40 million — is expected to be lost. Soybean losses could top 44 percent, or $307 million, along with half of the state’s nearly $150 million cotton crop.

“Existing USDA assistance for many of these crops will not be available for up to a year or more,” Spell said in a press release. “By that time, I fear many of our hardworking Mississippi farmers will no longer be able to operate due to the excessive losses faced this year which will, in turn, affect their access to financing for the future.”

Cory Horton, an assistant to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said farmers from the Delta Council met with the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday morning to plead for help.

“Congressman Thompson also plans to engage members of the Agriculture Committee to see what emergency relief can be provided for the farmers,” Horton said. Thompson, formerly an ag committee member, chairs Homeland Security.

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