Agriculture losses in South Carolina due to Hurricane Florence are estimated at a staggering $125 million with cotton being the hardest hit crop.
South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers says preliminary estimates peg cotton damages alone at $56 million based on some averages. Weathers estimates South Carolina cotton losses at 75 percent.
“I saw cotton that was already opening up, and the wind just blew the lint to the ground. And what had not blown to the ground was literally hanging by a thread. The question is does the farmer justify defoliating that field and picking that field, and that’s the decision they’re going to have to make,” Weathers said in an interview with Southeast Farm Press following a Sept. 18 helicopter tour of impacted counties.
“All in all, it’s worse than I thought: twice the impact of Matthew and a little less than half what the flood of 2015 cost us,” Weathers said.
On Sept. 20, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation requesting federal disaster aid for South Carolina. Weathers said agricultural losses are included in the disaster aid request.
“With an estimated $125 million in agricultural losses after Florence, Gov. McMaster’s inclusion of agriculture in his request for federal support is critical for the state’s largest industry,” Weathers said. “We will continue productive talks already begun with the president and our congressional delegation.”
While cotton was the hardest hit crop, peanuts, soybeans and vegetables were also damaged from Florence’s rain and wind. Weathers said peanut losses are estimated at 35 percent while the earlier maturing varieties may be a total loss. Soybeans have not yet reached maturity, but Weathers said damages are pegged at 25 percent. Most of South Carolina’s tobacco and corn crop were harvested prior to Florence’s arrival.
“For soybeans, there is still a bit of time until they are fully ready for picking. The plants still have some foliage on them, but we saw leaves blown off, we saw pods blown off,” Weathers said.
On Sept. 18, Weathers and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) conducted a tour by National Guard helicopter of Chesterfield, Dillon, Florence, Horry, Marlboro and Marion counties. The tour included meetings with farmers in Dillon, Marion and Lake City.
“We had some crop insurance agents at some of the stops, and they were very helpful just to talk through some things. Crop insurance certainly needs to be protected. It is the only risk mitigation tool that we have but it is still somewhat short in where it needs to be in terms of that safety net that farmers need,” Weathers said.
Weathers did meet face-to-face with President Donald Trump on Sept. 19 and discussed agricultural losses with the president when he toured the affected areas of South Carolina.
Weathers said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Congressman Rice are ready to push forward for agriculture to be part of the federal disaster relief package. “We are very encouraged by that. It’s a long journey, but maybe we’ve already made the first mile down the road of a pretty long journey,” Weathers said.
“I can remember vividly the looks on the faces of farmers after the flood in 2015. It was borderline despair, maybe borderline hopeless, but Tuesday I did not see that look on our farmers’ faces. They had the look of there is some ways to work with this crop of cotton or peanuts or soybeans. It was not a look of despair like we’ve had before so I was very pleased to see that,” Weathers said.