SC farmers turn wary eye skyward

Special to The ItemJuly 10, 2013 

The heavy rains left this field near Batesburg-Leesville with extra, unwanted water. Workers dig small ditches in the middle of the rows so the water can drain.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Row crop farmers in the tri-county area are hesitant to complain about the above-average rainfall experienced in the area since January, said Clemson Extension Service Agent David Dewitt.

"We don't want that valve to be cut off," Dewitt said. "As wet as we are now, we are going to start suffering if we don't get rain for two weeks. You have a better chance of making a crop with excess water than no water."

And no one has been "without rain," he said.

"Rain has been widespread, but you have various amounts," he said. "The Dalzell and Rembert areas had more than 10 inches of rain in early June, and in the Bethune area of Kershaw County, you only had about 3 inches. But everybody I know has been getting rain."

The primary impact of abundant rainfall is the effect on planting and harvesting the crop. "Right now, you can't get in the fields to harvest the wheat," Dewitt said. "And the quality of the wheat is a concern."

Most crops — corn, cotton, soybeans and peanuts — have been late "getting in the ground." "Everything is late," Dewitt said. "That's the main problem. What's been planted looks good."

Dewitt said many area farmers have taken advantage of insurance which provides farmers with revenue if the crop cannot be planted because of soil conditions.

"Every crop has a date, and you are eligible to receive money if you are not able to plant that crop by the specific date," he said. "I know of a lot of farmers who have taken advantage of that. I think you are going to see that overall crop production in our area is going to be down this year for sure." Manning farmer Cecil Rowell of Rowell and Sons Farm said the above-normal rainfall is taking a toll on his cattle and hay operation.

"We've had above-average rain since January, but in the past six weeks we have had more than 15 inches of rain," Rowell said. "I can't get in the fields to cut the hay. I have 130 acres of hay, and it's all about timing. To get maximum quality, you need to cut the hay every 28 to 30 days. Well, right now, I am 14 days late getting in the field. This delay is going to hurt the quality and the amount of hay I produce for the year. I sell quite a bit of hay, and now it's getting to the point where it's costing me money."

The muddy fields are also making it difficult to get equipment in the field, Rowell said. "And you have to work to keep the cattle in the high ground," he said.

Rowell said the prospect of more rain through the weekend is not good news.

"You can't do anything about nature, but you can wish," Rowell said. "I wish for at least two weeks without any rain. Right now, it looks like it's going to be at least Tuesday before I can get in the field. And I might not be able to do it then."

Sumter County farmer W.T. Brogdon said his soybean crop has been affected the most by the more than 16 inches of rain on his farm since June 1. Heavy rainfall has destroyed most of the soybeans he was able to plant.

"I was able to plant only about 400 acres," he said. "And that's about half what I usually do. But I've got 300 acres of beans that are not worth a nickel. They will have to be replaced."

Brogdon was more fortunate with his wheat.

"We've got some quality issues with the wheat, but we were fortunate that we are able to get the wheat out of the field," he said. "But I know farmers who still don't have their wheat harvested. All of the wheat around here is usually out of the field by June 1 to June 15."

Brogdon is hopeful Tropical Storm Chantal will stay away from Sumter County.

"The rain is bad enough, but I sure don't want any wind," he said. "Our corn crop is looking pretty good, but I sure don't want the wind to uproot any of the corn."

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