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Senate's override of farm bill veto makes measure law and sends a statement

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With some wearing the same stickers as the S.C. farmers looking on, state senators overwhelmingly voted to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill allocating $40 million to help farmers who lost crops in October’s floods.

A day after the S.C. House of Representatives overrode the veto by a 112-2 vote, the Senate followed suit 39-3, making the measure law. Before Wednesday afternoon’s vote, several senators voiced their desire to support an industry that has a $41.7 billion economic impact on the state.

“Why are the farmers being abandoned?” asked Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield.

Coleman, whose lapel bore a popular green sticker reading “Support Family Farms,” said “I hope we will send a good and strong message to the farmers that we stand with them.”

The farm aid bill originally passed the Senate 33-3 and the House 85-2, but Haley called it “an unprecedented bailout for a single industry” in her veto message.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, spoke in favor of sustaining Haley’s veto, saying state money should not be used to cover losses in a specific industry. He was joined in voting to sustain Haley’s veto by Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, argued in favor of the override, saying, “We must do everything we can to help these farmers survive.”

A nine-member Farm Aid Advisory Board will be created to administer grants up to $100,000 for eligible farmers. Grants, which can be applied to production costs such as seed and fertilizer, but not debt or new equipment, will cover no more than 20% of a farmer’s loss in the October floods.

State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers told The Post and Courier the goal is to have the board in place by the end of this month.

Sumter County farmer Chris Sumpter said he lost “every single crop” he had on the ground during the flood, as did Horry County farmer Trent Tyler.

“Nobody wants a bunch of rotten beans or peanuts,” said Tyler, who rejected Haley’s contention that farmers “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,” as she wrote in her veto message.

“You have to have the crop to sell for it to help out,” Tyler said.

In announcing the House override, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said: “The S.C. House recognizes the unprecedented loss our farmers experienced last October and understands the economic impact at stake if these concerns are ignored.”

That message resonated with the dozen or so farmers gathered in the Statehouse lobby on Tuesday afternoon in a show of unity organized by the S.C. Farm Bureau.

“We’re growing the food that’s going to feed everyone,” Sumpter said. “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.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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