Farmers brace for colder weather

jholleman@thestate.comOctober 25, 2013 

— The first freezing temperatures in the Midlands sent a chill through the farming community.

The slightly early Oct. 26 freeze coincides with a growing season that is about two weeks delayed because of heavy summer rains.

Fortunately, temperatures are expected to get below freezing only briefly and not in all areas of the Midlands early Saturday. If damage from this cold snap is minimal, as expected, farmers will breathe a little easier. The long-term forecast has lows in the 40s and 50s through Nov. 4.

Monty Rast, who farms peanuts near the Calhoun County community of Cameron, had crews hustling Friday to harvest all of the peanuts on his land that have been “turned up.” The fruit of the peanut plant grows underground. The harvesting process involves pulling the peanuts out of the ground and letting them dry on the surface for several days.

“When they’re turned up, they’re susceptible to frost damage,” Rast said. “That can cause them to have a bad flavor.”

So when it became clear a cold front with freeze potential was on the way, Rast stopped turning up peanuts and worked to harvest those that had been turned up before the end of the day Friday.

The first freeze also could impact fall grain sorghum and soybeans. Most farmers who work with those crops also plant summer wheat, and the summer wheat harvest was late because of the heavy summer rains. With a late start, the grain sorghum and soybeans haven’t matured yet and could be hurt by the freezing temperatures, said Kelly Coakley, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Agriculture.

Most of the cotton crop also got into the ground later than normal, Rast said. That means the bolls still have leaves on them. A heavy frost or freeze causes those leaves to stick to the bolls, creating a mess when the bolls are harvested.

Depending on their location, some cotton farmers might spray defoliants on their cotton to make the plants drop those leaves before an early frost or freeze.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning as far south as Sumter, Richland, Lexington and Aiken counties and a frost advisory for most of the coastal region, with the coldest temperatures expected 2 a.m.-9 a.m. Saturday.

Some areas could get down to 30 in parts of the Midlands. The forecast calls for lows of 31 in Aiken, 32 in Sumter and Camden, 33 in Columbia and Barnwell and 34 in Orangeburg.

A low temperature of 31 or 32 degrees for a short period of time, say less than two hours, probably will not harm most plants or crops, according to the National Weather Service. But if the temperature drops to 28 or 29 degrees for a few hours, vegetation will be damaged.

A first freeze on Oct. 26 is earlier than normal. The typical first freeze for Columbia is Nov. 7, according to the National Weather Service. But there have been plenty of earlier freezes. The record daily low for Columbia is 32 or lower for 19 of the 31 days in October, with the earliest on Oct. 4 in 1974.

For those planning outdoor activities during the weekend, the daily highs should be in the 60s, and the low Sunday morning is expected to be in the upper 30s or low 40s, according the National Weather Service.

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