State ag chief discusses flood impact

Two cousins from northern Washington County have begun the process of taking over the family farm along the Muscatatuck River from their fathers.

Brad Hunley, 35, and Brent Hunley, 32, couldn’t have picked a more challenging year to make that move in light of near-record flooding produced by heavy rains in late June and throughout much of July.

“This year has been tougher than most,” Brad Hunley said Friday morning during a visit by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.

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Ellspermann made the trip from Indianapolis to talk with farmers with cropland along the river in Jackson, Scott and Washington counties about their losses and needs because of the flooding.

About 50 farmers, seed salesmen, crop insurers and others showed up to talk near a 600-plus acre area where the Hunleys farm on East Mount Eden Road in the far northwestern corner of Scott County.

Brad Hunley, who is taking over his part of Hunley Farms from his dad, Brian, this coming year, said they lost about 40 to 50 percent of the 2,000 acres they planted because of flooding. The losses involved soybeans on fields they farm in all three counties.

Hunley said this is one of those years that some people might say it’s time to quit. He and his cousin have been doing it for a long time now with their fathers and won’t be doing that. Brent took over for his father, Everitt Hunley, this year.

“It’s in your blood,” Brad Hunley said. “You can’t quit. You just have to keep going after it.”

Ellspermann, also the state’s secretary of agriculture, said it hasn’t been a good year for farmers and the state is trying to do what it can to help.

“We’ll make the best out of what we get this year,” Ellspermann said.

And then look toward being prepared for next year, she added.

Ellspermann said there’s a lot to be learned in a year when crop losses of 40 to 50 percent are being reported throughout the state.

She said the state needs to make sure it takes all of that learning into account and figure out how the state can support agriculture better.

Jordan Seger, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s Division of Soil Conservation, said the state released Clean Water Indiana funds Thursday to support local soil and water conservation districts.

“Most of that money is awarded through competitive grants,” he said.

Those grants are for cover crops. He said that $250,000 can be released now to help cover crops.

Seger also asked those in attendance if the low-interest loans approved as part of a recent federal disaster declaration will do any good.

Brad Hunley said the loans do little to help because most farmers with damage from flooding already have crop insurance. Proceeds from crop insurance offset losses.

“You have to lose up to 30 percent of your total revenue to qualify,” he said.

Interest rates also are already low enough that loans are not hard to obtain, Brad Hunley said.

Dave Peters of Brownstown said his farm lost about 30 percent of the crop.

“We have crop insurance,” he said. “Crop insurance keeps you farming, but it doesn’t make you a profit.”

Seger asked farmers where they needed the most help, and many said they needed some immediate help planting cover crops to keep soils from eroding and help removing flood debris from fields and clearing waterways of logjams.

Peters said he agreed with many of the others in attendance when it comes to the need for clearing waterways to help move water along quicker.

John Hackman of Vallonia said farmers with land along the river bottoms know and accept the risk they take each year when planting that ground but are always in need of help in keeping waterways free of debris.

Ellspermann said the state really wants to make sure the family farms and the industry stay strong for the future.

“We have some young farmers here,” she said. “We want the next generation of farmers to be successful. Know that we are going to do what we can at the state (level).”