The Arkansas congressional delegation has asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to extend the Commodity Credit Corp. loan repayment date for farmers affected by what they called the collapse of Turner Grain Merchandising in Brinkley, Ark.

The request follows a similar one by Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Butch Calhoun asking for help for farmers in Arkansas and other states whose losses on outstanding grain purchases by Turner Grain could exceed $50 million, according to sources.

“We are writing to request USDA, through the Farm Service Agency, work to ensure that we do not disrupt a considerable portion of America’s most productive agricultural base because badly-needed funds were tied up in litigation,” said the letter signed by Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Tom Cotton and Steve Womack.

“Specifically, we request the FSA extend the Commodity Credit Corporation loan repayment date for all farmers who are depending on payment from Turner Grain to pay off these loans. We recommend a period of 180 days to give farmers and the agricultural community some sense of assurance.”

The letter from the congressmen also asked the secretary to have the Farm Service Agency revisit the extension after 90 days to determine if additional time will be needed beyond the current 180 days.

In his letter, Calhoun asked that USDA also make low-interest emergency loans to affected producers.

“Turner Grain of Brinkley has recently defaulted on payments and contracts to area farmers, leaving some producers faced with economic uncertainty. Reports from producers and various media outlets estimate losses as high as $50 million,” Calhoun said.

“Extending the time period for USDA loans and the availability of low-interest emergency loans would allow these producers an opportunity to get back on their feet while complicated legal claims are resolved. A similar request for an extension has been made by the Arkansas House and Senate Interim Committees on Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development.”

“Dozens, if not hundreds of Arkansas farmers stand to lose everything as a direct result of Turner Grain’s lack of payment,” the congressmen’s letter said. “At a time when the average age of a row crop farmer is 58, this business failure could deal a devastating, long-term blow to Arkansas’s agricultural community and have a chilling effect on young farmers now positioned to replace our agricultural producer base.”

Arkansas currently supplies more than 40 percent of the U.S. rice market and a significant portion of its soybeans, they noted. As a result, the Turner Grain case could have a lasting, negative impact on U.S. agriculture in the availability of food products and increased costs to consumers.

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