February 18, 2019 7:00 AM
- Hurricane Michael moved through southwest Georgia on October 10th and 11th in 2018, causing more than $2.5 billion in losses to the state’s agriculture industry. The state government passed disaster relief initiatives during a special legislative session in November but are still waiting on the federal government to send additional aid.
- On Friday, Governor Brian Kemp and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black stated the lack of federal disaster relief “confounds our understanding.” Also on Friday, Senator David Perdue (R-Ga) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga) announced a proposed stand-alone funding package which included $3 billion for disaster relief to Georgia farmers impacted by the hurricane.
- The continued sense of urgency for disaster relief comes as farmers approach planting season and as retaliatory tariffs from China and the European Union impact several of Georgia’s main agricultural products.
Significant parts of Georgia’s agricultural economy are in considerable need of federal aid after a disastrous storm last fall. 2018 was a particularly frustrating year for Georgia farmers, especially Georgia growers of crops like cotton who were projected to have their best harvest in decades. However, in October 2018, Hurricane Michael caused $2.5 billion in losses to the state’s agricultural industry when it rampaged through southwest Georgia. The commodities most severely impacted by the hurricane included timber, cotton, pecans, vegetables, and peanuts.
The economic pain in the agriculture sector was coupled by a trade war that targetted commodities that were later decimated in the storm. China imposed additional tariffs on some of Georgia’s main agricultural products, including cotton and as the trade war continued peanuts. The European Union also set retaliatory import taxes on peanut butter. Cotton is Georgia’s second most valued agricultural product, and peanuts are Georgia’s fifth most valued. However, while the federal government has enacted subsidies to partially offset the losses from the retaliatory tariffs, aid for disaster relief has yet to arrive.
For the southwest Georgia agricultural region to return to comparable levels of pre-storm production, federal and state disaster relief is needed. In October, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black described the dire state of the impacted areas aptly, saying “[t]hese are generational losses that are unprecedented and it will take unprecedented ideas and actions to help our farm families and rural communities recover.”
While the state responded with a special legislative session in November to provide relief, federal aid has been much slower to arrive.
For this reason, last Friday, Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner Black wrote a letter to Georgia’s congressional delegation imploring them to find ways to deliver on promised federal relief. The letter cited the state government’s disaster relief initiatives listing “tax credits, short-term financing and direct assistance for forest debris removal.” The letter went on to state the delays “confounds our understanding” and implored the delegation to find a way to bring federal disaster relief to Georgia.
Almost simultaneously with the state lawmaker’s letter, Senator David Perdue (R-Ga) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga) announced plans for a stand-alone funding package which included $3 billion for disaster relief to Georgia farmers impacted by the hurricane. The recent government shutdown is primarily blamed for delaying previous attempts at obtaining funding for disaster relief. The Senator’s plan to introduce the funding package when the Senate reconvenes on February 25th.
In the press release announcing the funding package proposal, the two Senators echoed the urgency expressed in the letter from the two Georgia constitutional officers.
Isakson referred to the hurricane’s impact on agriculture as “the biggest immediate crisis facing Georgia today.” The senior Senator further stated, “[w]e are in crisis mode for our farmers and agricultural community, and we will not stop until we get needed aid for those who have suffered devastation.”
Perdue resonated Isakson, saying, “[e]nough is enough. Georgia and other states across the country are hurting from historic hurricanes and devastating wildfires, and the federal government continues to drag its feet.” Perdue goes on to summarize the danger Georgia’s agriculture industry is in, “[f]or farmers in Georgia, it’s not a matter of putting a crop in the ground this year – it’s a matter of putting a crop in the ground ever again. I will continue to fight for disaster relief until our farmers and rural communities have the resources they need to recover.”