Farmers fight for funds

Published 12:04 am Monday, April 20, 2009

VIDALIA — Hurricane relief funds for farmers have been a topic of discussion for several months, and a new program to tackle the problem may soon launch.

Federal funds have been allocated for farmers who were affected by tropical storm Fay and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but guidelines in place before the storm have kept much of the money tied up until October.

Because of heavy losses caused by the storm, farmers may not be able to pay last year’s loans and thus not get funding for this year’s crop until the relief funds are released.

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And that’s a problem, District 21 Representative and Louisiana House Agriculture Committee Chair Andy Anders said.

“We have got to have a crop planted now,” he said. “We can’t wait until October.”

And that’s where the plan Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain presented to the agriculture committee earlier this month comes into play.

Instead of going through federal hoops, the agriculture department was able to secure $31.5 million through the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Administered by the Louisiana Agriculture Finance Authority, those funds will be divided among the state’s regions based on loss estimates from LSU.

Eligible farmers will be able to apply for loans for the cost of their lost crops up to $100,000.

According to Strain’s testimony before the agriculture committee, it is designed so there are no disaster relief duplication issues — meaning participating farmers wouldn’t be able to participate in other programs.

The catch is that the funds have to be used to pay down existing loans or direct crop costs.

“It cannot be used for anything like buying equipment,” Anders said.

Once the program is up and running, it’s a one time shot.

“Once the money has been used, (the program) is gone,” Anders said. “It is only “x” amount of dollars.”

The program’s officers will work at the agriculture department’s district offices, and will also have individual meetings with farmers once it is set up.

“The commissioner told us (the program) would hopefully be set up in 30 days, and the money would be available with 60 days of implementation,” Anders said.

As far as Anders knows, this is the first time a program like this has been done in any state, he said.

“It’s not the answer to it for sure, but it is hopefully a salvation for us to get a crop planted,” he said.