- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Dorchester County farmer John Pendarvis remembers well when Gov. Nikki Haley told him she had the backs of all farmers in South Carolina. She was standing in front of reporters in his muddy, flooded field less than three years ago.

But with Haley planning to veto a bill this week to provide $40 million in state aid to farmers devastated by last year’s historic floods, Pendarvis said her actions show she isn’t a friend to those who work the land.

“When she was running for re-election, she promised to help. Now she’s backpedaling on me,” said Pendarvis, who voted for Haley in 2010 and 2014.

Haley reiterated on Monday her veto will be based on fairness. She said farmers can buy crop insurance and on top of that have a number of other federal programs that can pay for lost yields or to prepare damaged fields for the next planting. That kind of help is not available to other small businesses that lost everything in the catastrophic October floods.

“My heart breaks for farmers,” Haley said. But “it would be wrong to bail out the farmers when we can’t bail out small businesses, when we can’t bail out homeowners.”

To Pendarvis, that stance makes what she said in his field in August 2013 seems disingenuous.

“You are seeing a farming community in crisis,” Haley said back then. “What we are here to do is show we have the backs of our famers.”

Much of the help Haley suggested back then is similar to what she suggests now. She asked the federal government to rush crop insurance payments and encouraged farmers to ask for special loans during both floods.

Farmers said the scope of the disasters were much different. The federal government paid $61 million in crop insurance payments in 2013. Losses from last year’s flood are approaching $400 million.

South Carolina lawmakers have passed a $40 million proposal that would allow farmers in disaster-declared counties could apply for grants of up to $100,000 each, covering no more than 20 percent of their total loss.

Haley said she will veto it, setting up a rare veto showdown outside of the budget. The original bill passed the House 95-6 and the Senate 33-3 - majorities well over the two-thirds needed to override the veto.

Lawmakers from almost every rural district in the state have a story about at least one farmer stretched to the limit of their credit by losing everything in the flood. Then the situation got worse when they couldn’t plant a full yield this season because it kept raining and the standing water never receded.

Sen. Brad Hutto is a frequent critic of Haley. The Orangeburg Democrat said he has no idea why she is digging in her heels this time.

“It seems like she is going out of her way for this fight,” Hutto said. “She just wants to poke them in the eye and say ‘I can make some of you fail and I’ll do that.’”

Hutto said Haley’s argument on fairness seems weak, echoing concerns by other farmers who said the government treats some people and groups differently from others all of the time by giving tax breaks to certain businesses or regulating one industry more closely than another.

And farmers said while there is different federal aid available to them, it can’t cover their entire losses. Also, unlike a normal small business that might make an insurance claim once a decade or less, the whims of the weather could mean a string of bad years and claims.

Pendarivs estimated he lost $125 an acre on his 2,000-acre farm near Harleyville, or close to $250,000 in 2015. Even with crop insurance, other programs and a potential grant from the state, he won’t make close to that all back.

After four decades in farming, he has enough money to stick it out another year, but he has seen fields usually planted by this time remain fallow and wonders how many other farmers fell on the wrong side of the knife-edge margins of today’s agribusiness.

“2015 was worse than when she came before,” Pendarvis said.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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