Loans available for peach farmers

Ben Smith examines a tree at his peach farm in Filbert after the spring freeze in April. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer loans to farmers affected by the weather.

Details on 3B
Ben Smith examines a tree at his peach farm in Filbert after the spring freeze in April. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer loans to farmers affected by the weather. Details on 3B

YORK -- Arthur Black's family has been growing peaches in York since 1923. In all those years, he can remember few as poor for business as this year.

A late freeze in April that devastated orchards across the Upstate destroyed 100 percent of his peach crop. He's still feeling the effects.

But relief could soon come for Black and others like him.

The United States Department of Agriculture has decided to offer emergency, low-interest loans to farmers affected by the April freeze, U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said in a press release. Some farmers also might be eligible for direct payments.

"Hopefully, this disaster assistance provided by Congress will help lessen the blow that farmers have experienced this growing season," Spratt said in the release.

For Black, customers once drawn to buy the fresh tree fruit aren't coming. That, in turn, affects the sales of other crops such as tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe at his roadside store.

"When you don't have the tree fruit, people don't come here, and the rest of the stuff doesn't sell like it ought to," Black said.

The emergency loans are available to all eligible farmers in the 5th District. Farmers have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for the loans to help them cover part of their losses, according to the USDA Farm Service Agency in York County. The agency will consider loan applications individually, taking into account the extent of the losses, security available and repayment ability.

To be eligible for the direct payments, farmers must have planted or planned to plant the crop before Feb. 27 and have lost 35 percent of their crop. Only producers with crop insurance or those who signed up for the Non-Insured Assistance Program are eligible for the direct payment assistance. Payment will be 50 percent of the established crop insurance price.

Black said he plans to apply for the aid. This kind of support is good for everybody, even nonfarmers, he said.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that the American public is used to buying cheap food," Black said. "If you don't keep the agricultural sector afloat, then you really hurt the whole nation."

While many farmers have crop insurance, it only does so much, said Andy Rollins, the Upstate fruit and vegetable agent for the Clemson Extension Service.

"A lot of people are under the misconception that crop insurance pays for (farmers') yield and their potential profits, and it never does," he said. "It's important and we have to have it, but our farms still lose a lot of money. I don't think most people can fathom the hundreds of thousands of dollars these farms will lose this year."

Jimmy Bryant of Bryants Peaches in York lost his peach and plum crops to the freeze.

Like Black, he said business is slower this year.

"Peaches are our main draw," he said, explaining that without them the other vegetable and fruit sales suffer.

Bryant is using his insurance to help cover the loss.

He doesn't plan on applying for a loan or grant.

"I don't see the need of it for me at this point," he said.

Many farmers may be leery of loans.

Rollins said most farmers already depend on loans to operate and the idea of additional debt doesn't appeal to them.

"There's no farm that's operating on a completely cash basis," he said. "I don't think the average person understands the amount of stress there is on the average farm in terms of paying those debts off."

The best way for people to help farmers is to shop at their stands, Rollins said.

"They're not the prettiest peaches we've had, and we don't have the quantity we've had in the past," he said. "But we do have some local peaches, and people need to go buy them."