Corker Addresses Concerns of Farmers and Nurserymen About Disaster Relief

October 11, 2007
Dwayne Page

In addition to the farmers, the early freeze and the summer drought has hit the nursery business hard and many nurserymen are hoping to cash in on federal crop insurance.

However, according to the growers, crop insurance only covers dead plants. So while a row-crop farmer can till under a brown field of soybeans, nurserymen must wait, and even if damaged plants survive, growers say consumers would not likely pay full price for them.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker heard from some nurserymen Tuesday during his town hall meeting in Smithville.

Congress has declared the entire state an agriculture disaster area, but that only qualifies those enrolled in the federal crop insurance program for low-interest loans, and many don't want to take on more debt.

Corker says he understands the problem ."Lamar (Alexander) and I both lobbied the Agriculture Secretary to have our state named a federal disaster area, which he did. We did it both for the freeze in the spring and for the drought later this year. The problem with that is, all it does is make the agriculture community able to access loans, and you can imagine, if you lose a year's production and then you borrow money to cover that, all it does is dig a deeper hole that sometimes takes seven to twenty years to dig out of."

"There are a couple of things happening. First, Senator Richard Shelby from Alabama is offering an amendment during this next session, before we leave for the year, to change the date upon which access to direct disaster relief occurs. It's going to be made to the end of this fiscal year, which would cover the drought that has taken place in the State of Tennessee. Secondly, the agriculture bill is coming through. The Senate mark up right now actually has a permanent category for disaster relief."

"This has been the worst drought in any recent time, I mean the losses the farmers have had across this state are real. I've been on farms all across this state. It is real and it's been devastating and the tragedy of it is that it's been at a time when they actually could have made some money this year. I mean corn prices are up, commodity prices are up across the board, and this was going to be one of those banner years.

"It looks like in the Senate bill this year, we will have a permanent category for disaster relief or direct payment assistant that will be offered, so I think we have solutions working. Hopefully they are going to pass, but I assure you we are very aware of what's happening here and we've spent a lot of time discussing it with Farm Bureau and Farm Service Agency officials."

Bill and Kim Luton of Cumberland Nursery have said in a previous report that the cold snap in April damaged or destroyed every plant that couldn't be brought into a greenhouse. They've since trimmed the nursery's staff by more than half. They estimate at least a half-million dollars lost at their nursery, alone, a third of their annual revenue.

Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and others visited with Warren and DeKalb County growers last month in McMinnville and heard many of these same concerns.

The Luton's say insurance adjusters "don't understand us, the policies don't favor us, and considering this is the worst year we've had in memory, this should be the year crop insurance pays out."

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