Michigan lawmakers approve $15 million in loans to farmers amid rainfall

Published: Jun. 20, 2019 at 10:37 AM EDT
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(6/20/2019) - The Michigan Legislature on Thursday voted to allocate $15 million to a low-interest loan program to help farmers who face financial losses because wet weather is making it hard to plant crops.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the bill , which cleared the Senate and House on 34-1 and 99-6 votes.

The spending would cover upfront loan-processing fees and subsidize private lenders so they can provide 1 percent interest rates to farmers, processors and others in the agriculture industry.

Republican Rep. Mark Huizenga of Walker said this spring's rainfall is having a widespread impact across the state.

"This really creates relief for farmers right away. It's our job to help protect farmers in this time of real crisis," he said.

Similar relief was enacted in 2012, when fruit growers and processors were hit especially hard by an early thaw and late freeze. Eligibility will be determined based on the percentage of loss to the producer or processor.

At least six lawmakers abstained from voting Thursday because they are farmers or their family members are. The votes came a day after Whitmer asked the federal government to approve Michigan farmers for disaster assistance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday it would give farmers flexibility to plant cover crops -- grown to protect and enrich the soil -- two months earlier than typically allowed and still qualify for crop insurance. The governor and others still want Secretary Sonny Perdue to approve a disaster declaration for the state.

Michigan is going through one of its wettest periods on record, with nearly 38 inches of rain from May 2018 through April. As of June 9, only three-and-a-half days this year had provided proper conditions for field work.

"We've had years of droughts, years of floods. But I've never had a year in 41 years that we didn't get everything planted," said Greg Ackerman with Ackerman and Son LLC in Tuscola County.

About 63 percent of the state's corn crop had been planted, down from 88 percent on the same date in 2018. Less than half of the soybean crop had been planted.

"There's a lot of water in the fields here again, and our window for planting on our edible beans, which is mostly what we have left here, is getting really narrow," Ackerman added.

Soggy fields also have prevented harvesting hay for livestock.

Officials say 64 of Michigan's 83 counties are seeking disaster designations.

A disaster declaration by the USDA would help a bit, but like other protections, it's not as good as growing.

"You'll never make out good with crop insurance, but it'll keep you in business," Ackerman said.

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