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Eyeing Michigan farm damage first-hand, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton renews calls for relief

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Van Buren County, July 2, 2019 | comments
Eyeing Michigan farm damage first-hand, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton renews calls for relief
WWMT
July 2, 2019

VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. — After a day of touring barren farm fields in West Michigan on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton offered one word: Heartbreaking.

"We have seen this rain, almost every single day, really going back to March," Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Tuesday while walking a desolated field outside Paw Paw, Michigan. "As we've been listening to farmers all over the district, they can't get out."

Nearly 38 inches of rain fell in West Michigan between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019, making it the third-wettest year on record in Michigan's history — preventing farmers from planting.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that as of June 9, only 63% of Michigan's corn was planted and only 43% of soybeans had been planted.

On June 19, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sought a statewide USDA Secretarial Disaster Designation, after 64 of Michigan's 83 counties made the same request this year.

"The governor did a good thing," Upton said. "She formally requested a disaster declaration. Most of us in the congressional delegation, bipartisan, signed on."

Shortly after Whitmer's request, on June 21, Upton lead the Michigan delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to the Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to support the state's request for a disaster designation.

If approved, the disaster designation would open the door for financial assistance to farmers who lack crop insurance to cover failed, or no yields.

"I talked to the USDA, Department of Agriculture this morning," Upton said Tuesday. "They are in the midst of getting with their county farm service agents to actually see if the damage is as bad as we think, ... which will provide some assistance."

Even with the designation, Upton said, it will be a while before the relief gets to the farmers.

"First of all, they have to ascertain specifically what the damage is, that's number one," Upton said.

In June, President Donald Trump signed a $19 billion natural disaster relief and recovery bill. "Most of us in the Michigan congressional delegation did vote for the supplemental appropriation bill. That's going to provide $3 billion for the disasters that we saw with the hurricanes, but it will count the flooding that we had, not only this year but last year as well," Upton said.

With harvesting and planting delayed, livestock and dairy farmers also are facing higher feed costs and possible shortages later in the year.

Tim Hood, a life-long dairy farmer in Van Buren County, is just one of those who is feeling the effects of a delayed crop.

"The biggest problem that works against me, being a dairy farmer, is the weather," said Hood, who owns Hood Dairy Farms in Paw Paw. "Wet weather is just something we are not capable of handling."

When it's dry, they can irrigate, Hood said. When it's wet, there's just no way to clear the water off the fields.

The feed shortage complicates the issues, and it's one farmers across the country are facing.

"Michigan has been really good about sending hay and stuff to areas down along the Mississippi River, where they have flooding, to help them out," Hood said. "But when we get a case like this, then that leaves us a little short."

Right now, straw costs $200 a ton, but Hood said straw is something that doesn't produce a lot of milk from the cows.

"There's not a lot of nutrients in straw," he said. "Usually straw is for bedding. Some guys put a little in as a filler for the amount of grain and stuff that they get."

Upton said he wants to "make sure that anything that does get going, even this late, that's planted, can be used particularly for feed."

"We got to have some adjustments to try and make up for what's hit, not only in Michigan but certainly the entire Midwest," Upton said.



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