New Bill Geared at Protecting Texoma Farmers

Right now, agricultural groups are working to head off a growing problem in the State of Texas. In the past 2 years, 16 grain elevators have financially failed, leaving many farmers at a total loss. Senator Craig Estes is proposing Senate Bill 248, geared at putting additional layers of protection in place to make sure if elevators fail the farmer is not left high and dry. Something the Farm Bureau says is critical.

"Over the past few years there have been some elevators in the state of Texas that have filed bankruptcy," said Bryce Moore, Regional Representative for the Texas Farm Bureau.

When grain producers harvest their crop, they bring it to an elevator to be stored and eventually sold. When elevators fail, they often sell the stored grain without paying farmers for it;Leaving farmers without their crop and in many cases without a penny to their name.

"There have been a lot of guys who have lost a lot of money, their grain has been sold without them having known without the producers know it has been sold and they may call up the elevator and say I'd like to sell my grain right now and there's nothing there and the way the program is set up right now there's not a whole lot of protection for producers," said Moore.

One elevator failed as close as Young County, according to Moore. He said many farmers in that area were left in near-ruin.

Sen. Estes' office released a statement that said in part "When a grain warehouse violates the trust of its customers, then the livelihood of families is on the line. Every year, hardworking farmers battle the weather and economy; they expect to trust that when grain is deposited, it will be measured and stored in accordance with the law.

SB 248 would change the law in several ways, according to information from Estes' Office:

Increases Bonding Requirements

1.      Increases the minimum bond amount from $20,000 to $35,000.
2.      For grain stored in a public grain warehouse, increases the bond amount from six cents to ten cents per bushel of storage capacity with a maximum bond amount of $500,000.
3.      For temporary storage capacity, requires a bond amount of ten cents per bushel for temporary storage capacity, with no maximum bond amount.
4.      Establishes a minimum net worth requirement of $200,000.
Increase Enforcement Actions Available to TDA
1.      Establishes that the department may suspend a license if a shortage of grain is discovered or if the warehouse operator refuses inspection.
2.      Removes restriction on the number of days the department may suspend a grain warehouse license during a licensing period and provides the warehouse operator the ability to lift the suspension by filing a court action.
Modifies Business Information Requirements
Clarifies when certain information and the type of information may be released to the public and law enforcement agencies:
1.      Documents are confidential except in an administrative proceeding, to local or state law enforcement, to an attorney (AG, DA, etc.) acting on behalf of the department, issuer of a the bond, or a federal agency conducting inspection. 
2.      Documents are open to the public after revocation of license, voluntary closeout of inventory, filing of a bankruptcy petition, or appointment of a receiver.  

The Farm Bureau says SB 248 is a good first-step toward making the law serve its members' needs well.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6