Walther Farms, a family farm based in Michigan, and a South Carolina conservation group recently reached terms regarding the protection of South Carolina’s Edisto River’s South Fork.
“When an issue or circumstance appears to set agriculture and natural resources at odds, communication is vital and compromise is required to move forward,” said Hugh Weathers, South Carolina’s commissioner of agriculture “I’m thankful that farming and environmental leaders have come together for the common purpose of growing our economy and protecting our environment simultaneously."
Friends of the Edisto and Walther Farms agreed to a compromise to address river protection, water efficiency and quality, habitat preservation and sustainable agriculture practices. On January 26, the environmental group officially agreed to drop an appeal challenging water withdrawals by the Walther family in Aiken County.
Shortly after the Department of Health and Environmental Control forum on January 7, a public meeting for citizens to voice their concerns about Walther’s proposed water withdrawal, the Walthers invited members of the agribusiness community and environmental groups to tour the farm and ask questions to gain a thorough understanding of the operation. Dana Beach, one of the state’s leading conservationists, was among farm-tour attendees.
“I met with the Walther group at the Augusta farm and suggested the company scale back some of its plans, said Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League (CCL). “Every single thing we asked them to do, they agreed to do – I felt that was almost unprecedented.’’
“Our family makes careful decisions based on our mission to promote sustainable excellence as we work to serve our customers, community and environment,” said Jason Walther, CEO of Walther Farms. “The community backlash caught us off-guard and affected us personally. We wanted to take the necessary steps to address each and every fear.
“Our family understands and appreciates the concerns expressed and wants to help demonstrate our commitment to working together as friends to preserve South Carolina’s natural resources now and for future generations,” he said.
Walther Farms proposed $500,000 worth of dramatic changes to their initial irrigation plans, including reducing its water withdrawal registration by 50-percent, and pulling its second registration for water withdrawal that was awaiting approval. The family also offered to drill at least one backup supplemental well on the farm to be used during drought conditions, which would reduce water usage by an estimated 25-percent.
“The Walthers responded above and beyond, in good faith to demonstrate their concerns for the Edisto and surrounding community,” Weathers said. “They want to demonstrate they’re just as excited about being in South Carolina as we are to live here.”
“We’re blessed to be in South Carolina, and we couldn’t be more thankful for the relationships we’ve developed over the past two months,” said Jason Walther. “Our family has the utmost respect for FRED and the guiding principles the group passionately protects.”
Walther Farms has been farming since 1946. In 1960, the family began farming potatoes. The family has farms in Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Indiana. The Walther family selected South Carolina because of the sandy soil, climate and business environment.