South Carolina farmers looking for better times: Part I

“Some years you have disasters of a freeze; some years you have a drought; and some years you have a flood,” says Hugh Weathers, commissioner of agriculture for South Carolina. “Well, lucky us, we had all three in one year.”

That’s how Commissioner Weathers started his discussion of the impact of the catastrophic floods that occurred across most of his state this fall during a speech at the annual meeting of the Southern Crop Production Association in Charleston, S.C.

It’s traditional for the commissioner of agriculture in the state where the group that represents farm chemical manufacturers and distributors in the 12-state Southeast U.S. holds its annual meeting to welcome the attendees and to give an update on the agricultural situation in the state. This year it was Weathers’ turn.

He said the freeze in the spring, which impacted South Carolina’s peach crop, “though not too severely," and the drought, which hit most of the state’s agricultural region during the growing season, would have been bad enough.

“And, then, at harvest time, the worst possible time, along comes historic rainfalls,” he said. “I have been across this state from one corner to the other, and there’s only a sliver along the North Carolina-South Carolina border moving westward that’s not severely impacted by this event.”

The commissioner said he saw photos last week where some areas had received 11 more inches of rain. “We had tobacco warehouses with two feet of water in them and tobacco stored in them. We don’t know what the total impact of this disaster’s going to be. We’re working feverishly to know that. We have to be armed with information first to go to our federal delegations and others to help convey that message.”

The main message to Washington: “Crop insurance was not the panacea you thought you were implementing with the last farm bill,” he noted. “There were new types of policies that I don’t think were disseminated by the industry as well as they could have been – the information was not there.

“So decisions that perhaps could have helped mitigate some of these losses, they just weren’t available to farmers. We’re going to Washington to give them that message, and going back to that environment that we all see in Washington, I guess I would covet your prayers that we’re able to persevere with the message that we have.”

Weather talked about a new program that he hopes industry will participate in to help farmers in South Carolina recover from the losses that have been incurred. The program is called Plant It Forward South Carolina, and it has its own website, www.plantitforwardSC.org.

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