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Farmers show united front as General Assembly overrides Haley veto of farm bill

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After earning degrees in criminal justice and economics from the University of South Carolina, Chris Sumpter decided to return to his family farm, becoming the fourth generation to tend to cows, hay and produce in the Borden community of Sumter County.

Sumpter, 24, owns that decision, but he thinks it’s important that people understand how much his chosen agricultural career contributes to South Carolina’s economy.

“It’s the No. 1 industry in the state. In fact, it’s a $41.7 billion industry that drives this state,” said Sumpter, whose figures are borne out by a 2015 report commissioned by Clemson University Public Services Activities, the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and the South Carolina Farm Bureau. “We’re growing the food that’s going to feed everyone. You may need an attorney twice in a lifetime, a doctor once a year, but you’re going to need a farmer three times a day.”

Sumpter joined around a dozen men and women in the S.C. State House lobby on Tuesday afternoon sporting bright green stickers reading “Support Family Farms” to spread that message. The S.C. Farm Bureau organized the farmer-friendly showing in response to Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill allocating $40 million to help farmers who sustained crop damage in the October floods.

On Wednesday, the S.C. Senate joined the House of Representatives in overriding Haley’s veto by a substantial margin. The Senate voted to override the veto 39-3, a day after the House voted 112-2 to override.

Several senators wore the same green stickers as state farmers as they stood to speak in favor of overriding the veto. Said Sen. Hugh Leatherman (D-Florence): “We must do everything we can to help those farmers survive.”

In her veto message, Haley called the bill “an unprecedented bailout for a single industry.”

“Farms, like any other small businesses, have access to public and private programs that help them access capital, recover from emergencies, and find markets for their goods,” Haley wrote. “Unlike most small businesses, farmers are eligible for federally subsidized insurance that covers up to 85% of their business losses with the taxpayer covering an average of 62% of the insurance premium costs.”

In announcing the House override, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas rebuffed that reasoning.

“The South Carolina House recognizes the unprecedented loss our farmers experienced last October and understands the economic impact at stake if these concerns are ignored,” Lucas said. “Governor Haley’s factually inaccurate justification for vetoing the Farm Aid bill is inconsistent with South Carolina values.”

Trent Tyler, who farms tobacco, corn, beans, peanuts and small grains in Horry County, also took exception to Haley’s characterization.

“We don’t want a handout. We’d just like some help if it’s available, and our legislators say there is some available,” Tyler said. “What our governor and others don’t understand is if you go purchase a vehicle – let’s just say you pay $20,000 for it – you can go get a comparable insurance policy to cover that. We can’t do that with crop insurance. If you insure (a crop) for $300 an acre, let’s say you spend $500 to get it to make – and you’ve got to put the goods to it for it to make – that’s where we’re at. We can’t insure that difference.”

Both Tyler and Sumpter, who each suffered total losses of the crops they had on the ground when the flood hit, anticipated the override, but remained concerned about the message sent by Haley’s veto.

“It’s just a matter of having an elected official understand how important it is,” Sumpter said. “You say that your constituents mean a lot to you, but it’s pretty clear that when you veto a bill of this nature you’re not concerned about your constituents.”

The bill originally passed the House by an 85-2 margin and the Senate 33-3.

“This program provides our agriculture industry with state disaster assistance that has already been afforded to small businesses and homeowners by the federal government,” Lucas said.  “I am extremely proud of the leadership the House has demonstrated today and hope the Senate will act accordingly to ensure our farmers are able to recover from last October’s historic flood.”

Farmers such as Sumpter will welcome any relief for an industry that is their way of life.

“I’m also an insurance broker, but I tell folks all the time, I like a tractor seat a whole lot better than an office desk,” Sumpter said. “You do this all your life. You check in at the age of 5, and you don’t check out until the good Lord calls you home.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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