To mark our 25th anniversary this year, we’ve started a new series that combines reflections on our history with the popular “Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) social media trend. Look for new articles tagged with #TBT here each week and join us for a look back on our history of working alongside farmers and rural communities.
With the official start of hurricane season just days behind us, we look back at one of the worst hurricanes to hit the Southern US in recent history, how it impacted farmers in the region and changed our own approach to disaster assistance and farm risk management.
Hurricane Floyd made landfall in North Carolina on September 16, 1999. In the days before, the storm set off the third largest evacuation in US history, with more than two million people across five states ordered to leave their homes. The storm would become a singular force in reshaping federal disaster relief efforts in the Southeast. To reduce risks from future floods and to build safer communities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of North Carolina developed a model program to maintain up-to-date flood hazard information for the state. Research projects were initiated on how to design disaster plans for disadvantaged communities, and new partnerships were forged between communities and state and county response teams.
A newsletter published by the NC Contract Poultry Growers Association discussed the tremendous response made to help farmers in the aftermath of the hurricane. The group recruited volunteers and mailed postcards to every farmer in its database extending an offer to help.
RAFI’s staff was on hand offering disaster assistance training in the NC cities of Raleigh, Tarboro, and Goldsboro. The training ensured that volunteers would be able to help growers apply for federal disaster assistance programs. RAFI’s Lead Farm Advocate, Benny Bunting, coordinated our volunteer cleanup efforts in the east and worked round-the-clock for several days to help growers in need.
Help For Hurricane Victims
Following outreach by the NC-CPGA, teams of poultry growers with convoys of trucks and trailers were sent to eastern NC. “That’s the first time I have ever had to clean dead fish out of a poultry house,” one of the team members recalled.
After his third trip to the eastern part of the state, contributing writer Jimmy Turner wrote: “Some of the poultry houses are still too wet to clean, others are barely workable… The amount of dead chickens or turkeys along with the litter makes an enormous job. It’ll take a long time to clean out these houses even after we remove the litter… Even cleaning out one house is a real accomplishment.”
In the Political Arena
At the same time that farmers were swamped with cleaning up the detritus of the storm, political efforts seeking to protect these farmers were ramping up in Congress. Two bills had been introduced that intended to help contract farmers of all commodities to remain independent family farmers. The bills were co-sponsored by Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Sanford Bishop. The Poultry Farmers Protection Act of 1999 was intended to expand the definition of “poultry grower” to include pullet, breeder, and broiler farmers. The Family Farmer Cooperative Marketing Amendments Act of 1999 was conceived to protect the ability of farmers to negotiate fair contracts with processors. Both bills were ultimately stalled in the 106th Congress and eventually died.
Today, we continue to advocate for contract agriculture reform. Keep up with this issue here.
New Disaster Assistance Strategies Emerge at RAFI
RAFI issued a publication called “The Disaster Assistance Update” after Hurricane Floyd. It listed critical deadlines for NC farmers impacted by the storm, along with a wealth of relief program information.
During this time, we also began to focus on crop insurance as a primary risk management tool for farmers. It was clear that crop insurance could help farmers survive severe weather and manage risk, and we saw that it could be the key to securing other important financial resources, namely access to credit. Crop insurance was like the missing piece in the risk management puzzle for many of the small and mid-size farms RAFI assisted after the storm.
Hurricane Floyd was the impetus behind more than a decade of our research, policy development, and work on the ground with farmers affected by natural disasters. Sixteen years later, RAFI continues to provide training and resources on disaster assistance for farmers. We’ve seen first-hand both the devastation endured by farmers in disaster zones and the powerful efforts of the farm community to organize–to cleanup, pickup, and move forward together.
In 1999, The Baltimore Sun ran a three-part series on the poultry industry and the farmers caught up in the abusive contracts and paralyzing debt that have since become all too common in contract poultry production. The series began with “The Plucking of the American Chicken Farmer,” which detailed the ruination of poultry farmers and pinpointed how some major companies were even cheating their growers. Collectively, the series presented 10 months of investigative work conducted by reporters Dan Fesperman and Kate Shatzkin.
This year, RAFI will celebrate 18 years of serving small and mid-scale family farmers across NC through our grant program. To kick-off a new round of grant-making through our Agricultural Reinvestment Fund, we’ve organized a farm tour with two of our current grantees on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 from 1 to 3 pm.