- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - The 2 feet of rain that fell on parts of South Carolina this weekend indiscriminately smothered newly planted seeds and crops ready to harvest, creating a near-total loss for area farmers.

“It’s just a complete disaster,” said Clemson Extension agent Charles W. Davis Jr., who spent Monday morning navigating around closed roads to document blown-out dams and underwater fields. “This is one for the record books. We’ve had rain events before, and they were never very pretty, but this is the one the old-timers are going to talk about. It’s a shipwreck.”

Coming on the heels of a summer cursed with dry heat, the flooding “is kind of adding insult to injury,” Davis says. While it’s too early to assign a dollar estimate to agricultural damage statewide, Davis described it as a “huge financial blow.”

Davis is holding out some hope for Calhoun County’s soybeans, but says otherwise nothing was spared. Crops decimated by the flooding include peanuts, cotton, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, beets, carrots and collard greens. According to Clemson Extension agent Zack Snipes, perennials such as pecans, peaches, blueberries and blackberries may also succumb to the storm, since they can’t breathe when the soil is fully saturated.

“The plants might pull through, but then you get infections from fungi and other diseases,” Snipes said, adding that the full extent of the agricultural damage may not be known until farmers are able to re-enter their fields. Currently, most affected fields are too soaked to support tractors. In addition to the hazards posed by standing water, Davis suspects the rain carved holes that could upend machinery.

Jim Martin of Compost in My Shoe, which maintains a plot at Dirt Works Incubator Farm on Johns Island, on Sunday had a chance to visit his field. “We lost about half of what we had out there,” Martin said.

“But on the bright side, we still have half of what we had.” The flood forced Martin to suspend his CSA, which was supposed to start its fall season this week.

“We will survive and replant,” he vowed.

But as Sara Clow, general manager of food hub GrowFood Carolina in Charleston, points out, farmers “may not be able to plant at all if we get too close to frost.” Davis highly doubts farmers will have the opportunity to replant or proceed with late fall plantings in the narrow window of time between fields drying out and cold setting in. “The next planting will be next April,” he predicted.

Within a few weeks, local growers will run out of produce to bring to markets, Martin said. To supplement their exhausted larders, they may purchase fruits and vegetables from Upstate growers who escaped the brunt of the storm. While those items aren’t locally grown, Snipes is strongly urging Lowcountry residents to buy them.

“Even though the farmer may not be growing it, selling it is part of his livelihood,” Snipes said. “It’s going to have to become a bigger part of their business to get through this. Tell the people to go to the farmers market and support the farmers, because they need all the help they can get.”

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Information from: The Post and Courier, https://www.postandcourier.com

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