Whitmer signs farm loan bill after rain has pummeled Michigan crops

By: - July 8, 2019 6:18 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Smuts Farms in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed legislation authorizing $15 million in loans for farmers reeling from crop loss and damage during one of the wettest years in state history.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Smuts Farms in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

Whitmer signed House Bill 4234, a supplemental appropriation for farmers under the Qualified Agricultural Loan Origination Program, during a visit to a local farm in Charlotte to highlight the damage of extensive flooding. The visit comes after Whitmer previously requested disaster relief for farmers from President Donald Trump’s administration.

Across Michigan and the Midwest, heavy rainfall has slashed corn and soybean yields, with floods making it impossible to plant the normal volume of crops.

The state has endured 37.9 inches of rain between May 1, 2018, and April 30, 2019, according to Whitmer’s office. Sixty-four out of the state’s 83 counties have asked for disaster designations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to the flooding.

Whitmer wrote U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in late June urging the USDA to declare a disaster designation in Michigan and allow farmers flexibility under the Federal Crop Insurance Program by permitting them to harvest cover crops in September instead of October for livestock feed. Perdue granted the request a day later

A portrait of farm flooding in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

Charlotte farmer Duane Smuts said he could plant roughly 60% of his intended soybean crop and 40% of the corn he meant to plant this year on his 3,000-acre farm. 

“This is the worst [year] that I’ve experienced,” he said. 

“We always go through some weather turmoils as farmers. It’s part of the business that we do. We are dependent on mother nature. But the longevity of this cool-and-wet spell just never afforded us an opportunity to plant all of our acres,” Smuts said.

Smuts said he’s thankful to have crop insurance, but that still will only recoup about 35 to 45% of the revenue he would earn in a normal year.  Smuts said he’s still waiting to see how much of a financial hit the wet weather will mean for his business.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Smuts Farms in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

The governor said she saw extensive flooding across the state during a helicopter ride from Detroit to Camp Grayling to inspect National Guard troops a couple of weeks ago. She spoke with Smuts about the challenges his farm is facing on Monday.

“This is a family that is only able to put in half of their crops this year and it’s going to be very hard for them. There’s a personal toll, but there’s obviously a broader economic toll for our state,” Whitmer told reporters. “I could see field after field had patches of water, just sitting water. So this is the human and economic toll that weather like this can take.”

According to the governor’s office, Michigan farmers have only had three and a half days of weather conditions necessary for field work, with corn and soybean fields left largely unplanted.

The total economic toll is still unknown.

State Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) said in a statement that the disaster loan legislation Whitmer signed Monday will help “provide financial security for families” and “plays an important role in fueling our economy.”

Witwer said the damage to crops from flooding “can be both devastating and far-reaching.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.