South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says conservative estimates put South Carolina crop losses at more than $300 million after historic rains devastated the state earlier this month.
Weathers toured the state by air after the heavy rains ended and saw thousands of acres under water, farm buildings standing as islands in the water and farm roads washed away. “Seeing the devastation was the first step in the long process of assessing the impact on agriculture in South Carolina,” Weathers said.
After completing the tour, Weathers joined staff from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, USDA Farm Service Agency and Clemson Extension Service to begin initial damage assessments.
“The storm has had a significant statewide effect, and it appears that low lying farmland adjacent to rivers systems and creeks was most severely impacted,” Weathers said. “The crops affected include peanuts, cotton, fall vegetables, soybeans, and some timber.”
Weathers said 2015 has been an exceptionally challenging year for South Carolina farmers.
“We have dealt with a severe drought during the growing season and now excessive rainfall at harvest. Efforts will continue to gauge losses through the completion of harvest season,” he said.
A request has been sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for an agricultural disaster declaration to be made, which begins the process for federal assistance to farmers, Weathers said.
“Right now, the most important thing for farmers to do is learn the details of their crop insurance policies and immediately contact their crop insurance agent prior to making any additional investments in their crop,” he said.
In the meantime, Clemson Extension notes that South Carolina crop harvests were already down by 50 percent due to the withering summer drought, and the historic rainfall has made a bad situation much worse.
David DeWitt, Clemson Extension’s area row crop agent for Lee, Sumter and Kershaw counties, guesses that the massive storm will worsen harvests by another 20 percent. This means that 2015’s harvests will be about 30 percent of what they were in 2014.
“It looked bad before,” DeWitt said. “It looks awful now. Many areas in the state had already had 4-5 inches of rain the week before this storm even hit, so the ground was already wet. And then, 10, 15, even 20 inches of rain falls in such a short period of time. There’s nowhere for the water to go.”