This has been a difficult year, even before Hurricanes Florence and Michael struck the Carolinas and the Gulf Coast. Farm income has been cut in half compared to a few years ago, but farm expenses haven’t “gotten the memo.” Trade challenges have brought prices lower for some ag commodities. Many farmers are drawing down savings or taking on more debt to keep farming until prices improve.
As bad as the farm economy is, most farmers still could find hope by looking across their thriving fields, forests, groves and barns. Every farmer I’ve known is cheered up by anticipating a bumper crop coming in or seeing their animals healthy and productive. It means we’ve done things right. But no matter how good a farmer you are, Mother Nature can blow it all away.
That’s what has happened to thousands of farmers this fall. In the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence killed hogs, chickens and turkeys; flooded corn, soybean and tobacco crops; destroyed sweet potatoes and other vegetables that would have been ready for harvest; and took down valuable stands of timber. To make matters worse, livestock producers who did everything they could, working day and night, to protect their animals from the storm, have faced cruel and unfair criticism from extreme animal rights activists over the tiny percentage of animals that couldn’t be saved. Add the near-constant fight for the right to feed our nation to the list of pressures farmers face.
About a week ago, I had the opportunity to visit with farmers in the southern part of my home state of Georgia, where cotton that was just days from being harvested was soggy and scattered on the ground, completely ruined. In all three states that took the brunt of Hurricane Michael’s wrath—Alabama, Florida and Georgia—farmers and ranchers are facing billions in row crop losses, downed fences, damaged timber and pecans, and flooded out vegetable fields. It is heartbreaking to see the extent of the devastation and to know that these losses come on top of the stresses that farmers and ranchers already were feeling from the farm economy.
But another thing I know about farmers and ranchers is they persevere through tough times. Not only that, but they also lend a helping hand to others. Farmers who are losing their shirts are willing to give the shirt off their back to help neighbors and friends. Nobody wishes for a disaster like this, but it does remind us of the good in people.
I’m proud that the spirit of giving and helping others is strong in the organization that I’m honored to represent. The state Farm Bureaus that are affected by this year’s hurricanes have established agricultural assistance funds, raising money to help their farmers and ranchers recover and rebuild. To donate or spread the word, see the following links:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has directed the U.S. Agriculture Department staff in state and county offices to provide all available assistance to farmers, residents and communities impacted by the hurricanes. His leadership means a lot, and I know the help coming from USDA will be appreciated. I hope our friends in Congress can appreciate how important it is to get some of these programs reauthorized through the farm bill, so that USDA can respond to future disasters.
Finally, to those farmers and ranchers who may feel overwhelmed by the challenges you’re facing, I hope you will reach out to family, friends or your church community for counsel, prayer and support. We’ve all known people who were going through a difficult time and didn’t give us the opportunity to be there for them when we could have. Don’t be that person who leaves friends and family with regret over what they could have done. Reach out. Being part of a community means giving and receiving. And I hope you will remember that God wants us to lean on Him and give Him the opportunity, also, to give us strength to persevere. In James 1:12, God tells us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Farmers and ranchers have stood many tests. We will persevere!
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.