S.C. farmers need a helping hand

We understand Gov. Nikki Haley’s philosophical objection to singling out South Carolina farmers for special aid following a disastrous 2015. But without help, many farmers could go out of business, and that would be a significant blow to the state’s economy.

South Carolina farmers say 2015 ranks among the worst years ever for them. The S.C. Department of Agriculture reports that farmers suffered $587 million in losses last year, with $376 million the result of the destruction of nearly the entire cotton, soybean and peanut crops.

And with continuing wet weather and lower commodity prices, 2016 could be just as bad.

Nature was not kind to the state’s agriculture industry last year. Farmers first had to contend with a hard freeze in late March. That was followed by a midsummer drought that hit much of the state.

And that was followed in October with storms that flooded parched crops, leaving fields in low-lying areas covered in up to two feet of water. With heavy rain pelting the state periodically through the fall and winter, the ground still is muddy, making it impossible for many farmers to plant a new crop, which could result in millions more dollars in losses.

South Carolina farmers have received federal crop insurance payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they have access to emergency low-interest loans. But farmers also had hoped the state would use some of the federal flood-relief money to cover a portion of their uninsured crop losses.

While Haley requested $140 million in federal aid for flood relief for homeowners, she didn’t ask for money for farmers. She said farmers already enjoy protections through federal crop insurance and they shouldn’t expect special treatment that is unavailable to other businesses.

But farming always has been different from the average business. We reward farmers for enduring the uncertainties of trying to plant and harvest a crop because agriculture is regarded as a necessity to the nation’s well being.

We realize that many huge farming enterprises are immensely profitable, well protected from the ups and downs of weather cycles and recipients of generous subsidies from the federal government. But many smaller farms are one bad year away from bankruptcy.

Last year, with both a drought and a flood, was such a year for many of the state’s farmers. And 2016 is certain to be a challenging year as well, testing the staying power of many smaller and family farms.

Agriculture is a mainstay industry in this state. That is especially true with the growing emphasis on farm-to-table enterprises and the effort to promote the consumption of state-grown produce and meat within the state.

Failing to help sustain the agriculture industry could mean that not only will many farmers go out of business but also that many potential young farmers will decide to look for another line of work. That would be bad news for the poorer rural parts of the state where farming remains a vital part of the local economy.

The state routinely provides tax breaks and other perks to businesses that agree to locate in South Carolina. We should be just as attentive to the needs of farmers who already contribute substantially to the state’s economy.