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Senator reassures Pa. farmers

August 20, 1999

Santorum visits farmersBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Three undersized apples from one of Lee Showalter's trees fit easily in U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's hand, illustrating the bleak situation many farmers in this region face heading into the harvest.

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"Loans are not the answer. It has to be grants," said Guy Donaldson, an Adams County orchardist and president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. "Loans don't help farmers that are leveraged to the hilt."

Little apples mean little or no profit. One hundred pounds of normal apples might bring $8, but the smaller apples are good only for juice and may bring as little as $2.50. At that price, Donaldson said it might be better to leave them on the trees.

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"There's no way farmers are going to make money this year," he said, adding 70 percent losses on corn crops will be common for many farmers. Since much of the corn is used to feed cattle, farmers will be forced to buy feed this winter, cutting further into the bottom line.

"This is something that looks more like a crabapple than a red delicious," Santorum, R-Pa., said, holding up an apple.

Showalter said the stress the drought has put on trees will affect next year's harvest. This is the time of year when trees produce buds that bear fruit next season.

"There's a good possibility the prospects for a good apple crop are reduced because of this," he told Santorum.

"This tree will draw energy from the fruit to survive," Showalter said. A long soaking rain might help fill out the fruit before harvest, but not much, he said.

Santorum said there is $135 million for specialty crops such as apples in the Senate's $7.4 billion emergency farm assistance bill. It will be at least September before the House and Senate craft a package to send to the White House.

Santorum, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said cash assistance will help struggling farmers, but improved risk management is needed. The Senate bill includes $400 million in premium discounts for farmers who enroll in the federal crop insurance program.

"I'm going to insist that anyone who gets cash assistance will have to get crop insurance," Santorum said.

The federal government too often provides aide to farmers without requiring them to participate in crop insurance and other risk management programs, he said.

Franklin County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Tom Kerr recently said most county farmers have crop insurance, but statewide the figure is lower because many farmers balk at the premiums, Santorum said.

John Stoner of Mercersburg, Pa., said he paid about $10,000 for the premium to insure his corn crop against a 70 percent loss. He figures he'll get about $100,000 from insurance this year, helping him to about break even.

"I figured I could have made $250 an acre" if not for the drought, he said. Stoner said the crop cost about $175 an acre to plant and harvest and his insurance payment will depend on his actual loss.

State Representative Pat Fleagle, R-90th, said the General Assembly will look at emergency farm assistance when it reconvenes next month. Gov. Tom Ridge said Wednesday at Ag Progress Days at Penn State University that grants are needed to help farmers through the drought.

The guidelines for receiving federal emergency farm loans discourage many farmers, according to Joel Rotz, the director of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's National Legislative Program. To qualify, a farmer must be rejected for a loan by banks, yet show he has the cash flow to repay the federal loan.

"In some cases they might be able to restructure their overall debt within that framework," he said.

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