As I sit here in my office looking out on a late July afternoon, watching what seems to be another in a seemingly endless array of thunderstorms once again inundate the already water saturated landscape, I wonder how in the world my friends down in the South Carolina Low Country are going to make it through this crop year.
The National Weather Service forecast for Cameron, S.C., today calls for better than a 50 percent chance of rain, cloudy and moderate temperatures.
Tomorrow and the next day the forecast is about the same.
On most late July days, even a 50 percent chance of rain and lower temperatures would be a real blessing. This year more rain and a lack of heat are much closer to a curse than a blessing.
In Cameron, S.C., more than 55 inches of rain has fallen so far this year. The 100-year average is little more than 45 inches. The last thing they need right now is more rain.
Bud Bowers is a cotton, peanut and grain grower in Luray, S.C., just a few miles down the road from Cameron. Bud is a really good farmer and a true ambassador for the profession. He’s a former Peanut Profitability winner, but this year in his neck of the woods, he says there won’t likely be much profit for any of the crops he grows.
“We’re in a real mess,” he says. Alligators are more common in his cotton and peanut fields than sunshine — and that’s a real bad thing. “Some of our crops are just so flooded out there is no hope for them to come back and the rest of our crops will be dependent on Mother Nature as to how well they recover,” he adds.
A few miles up the road in Cameron, S.C., cotton and peanut grower and buyer Monty Rast says farmers in the area are likely to need some kind of regional assistance to make it through this year.
Rast, who is a former South Carolina Farmer of the Year and High Cotton Award winner, says, “I’ve been farming all my life, and I’ve never seen anything like this flooding. It’s not just cotton and peanuts, all our crops are affected.” He says more than half his wheat crop remained to be harvested in late July.
He buys peanuts in a 60-mile radius around Cameron, which is located between Columbia and Charleston, roughly 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. In his buying area Rast says growers voluntarily cut back peanut acreage by 30 percent this year to help compensate for an over-supply in the marketplace. By mid-July, excessive rainfall had eliminated another 30 percent of the planted crop.
“This is a historic rainfall — something we’ve never seen before in my lifetime, and we don’t know what will happen to the rest of our peanut crop. We know it won’t be a good crop, but we don’t even know if there will be any crop,” he says.
In addition to being a large acreage farmer, Monty is also a peanut buyer and owns part interest in a cotton gin. Businesses like these make it or don’t on volume. This year, in the Low Country, those businesses will suffer, too.
In the Piedmont of North Carolina and some areas of eastern North Carolina, the same scenario is playing out. Ironically, the worst case scenario may be for it to stop raining all together for the next 10-12 weeks. Replacing one demon for another seems to be a part of life for growers in the Southeast.
Farmers, who are enduring the record rainfall and businesses that serve them are resilient and eternal optimists, and most will weather the storm and plant, shell and gin another crop next year. Sadly, some won’t.
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