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Financial aid for South Carolina farmers available during coronavirus pandemic

The commissioner for the SC Department of Agriculture says there are several avenues available for financial aid for farmers.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Financial aid is being made available for farmers as the impacts of the coronavirus are starting to take affect.

South Carolina Department of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says they've been following the governor's lead when it comes to interacting through telecommunication as much as possible.

"Some you have to be out there when you have to do third-party inspections for farmers selling products to their grocery stores or schools or what not," said Weathers. "We're still out there with all our consumer services responsibility. A little bit scaled back."

Laboratories have been scaled back as well because of a reduced amount of work for seed germination and other testings.

"We're pretty much trying to operate and provide all the services but on a much adjusted format the way we're working," explained Weathers.

Although the coronavirus has may have stopped or scaled back certain jobs in the country, farmers are very much busy. March is the start of when farmers get ready to plant spring crops.

The commissioner says since farming is concerned essential through the Department of Homeland Security, they're still able to operate.

"Regarding the markets right now, they are very, very soft due to international trade being so much reduced and it is really taking a toll on some of our crops," said Weathers.

According to Weathers, the price for cotton is at the lowest it's been for the past twenty years.

Soybeans and corn trade has been up and down. One of reasons is because the state uses them a lot in the poultry industry.

One reason they're taking a hit is because of how the gas industry is suffering.

"With prices, that impacts the ethanol industry and ethanol uses quite a significant portion of the corn that's produced in the United States."

The fruits and vegetables markets have been impacted by the restaurant industry with places having to close down or only be limited to carryout, curbside pickup, or delivery services.

RELATED: Restaurants moving to carryout or delivery in wake of coronavirus

Many of the farmers affected by restaurants are now starting to focus on the retail industry rather than restaurant industry at this time.

Some farmers have started to do home-delivery services with fruits and vegetables.

"We have shared with the public where in South Carolina where you can purchase products directly from farms, farmers markets, roadside markets, our whole sellers, and very pleased by the response and that's on our website."

The commissioner says it's going to take time to see what all impacts COVID-19 will leave on the agricultural industry.

Peach farmers will start harvesting in May so the department says they're looking towards having workers available.

The guest worker program, the H2A, while there were very good announcements made, that the returning workers and some who are already being processed would be deemed essential and allowed into the country. I'm finding out some of the consulate activities in Mexico are not operating quite as smoothly as we'd hope."

The department is looking into that because of the contracted workers don't get here in time, it could be harmful to the crops.

RELATED: Local farmers changing the way they operate due to coronavirus

One of the many questions people are asking is how farmers can received aid as they go through this difficult time.

Many farmers are still recovering from droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters the Palmetto State has experienced over the past few years.

"In the CARES Act, it included some programs that would run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and it has not been officially announced but I expect that the vehicle that's been used in the last few years with the trade negotiations and the impact on agriculture, that's been called a market facilitation payments."

The commissioner believes the market facilitation payments will be available in 2020 to offset the impacts of in-trade from the coronavirus.

Farmers can also borrow money on their commodities that they've harvested. They may be able to borrow money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Marketing loans deadlines are expected to be extended according to the commissioner.

The department has been working with the SBA to find out who can take advantage of the SBA lending program.

The commissioner believes farmers are being recognized for the economic impact they bring and are getting support from multiple agencies.

"Farmers are resilient and I'm proud to work with them. I can't do anything but give them praise for just being good citizens and fighting this the same way as we all do, all the while trying to keep their families and employees safe and separated from the virus as possible."

For more information provided by the SC Department of Agriculture regarding the coronavirus, click here.

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