When Hugh Weathers, South Carolina’s agriculture commissioner, landed in the Pee Dee in a National Guard helicopter on Tuesday, what he saw was shocking.
Fields loaded with mature peanuts were inundated with water, ruining the crop. Soybean fields were wrecked. And acres of once-plump cotton bolls had been shredded by hurricane force winds.
“The lint was literally hanging by a thread or was blown to the ground,” he said. “And that (cotton) field was typical. Everything was ready for harvest. Everything was at its most vulnerable.”
For Ronald Rabon, a fourth generation farmer in Aynor, the triple whammy has been crippling. He was anticipating a record crop this year
“I can’t keep refinancing,” Rabon told The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News. “I’ll be digging a hole that I can’t live long enough to pay off.”
And the worst this year may still come as waters continue to rise in rivers rolling through the Pee Dee.
“How many acres of soybeans will be under water around the Waccamaw (River)?” Weathers said. “If the floods still to come also impact things like vegetables, then we’ll have to adjust” the loss figure.
Gov. Henry McMaster formally requested $1.2 billion in aid Thursday from the federal government as the state deals with continued flooding from the storm, which landed on the coast nearly a week ago.
The figure represents an early estimate of losses, based on 2015 and 2016.
Agriculture was widely affected in eight Pee Dee counties, with Dillon, Marlboro and Marion hit the hardest.
The crops that have suffered the most are:
▪ Cotton, estimated at $56 million
▪ Soybeans at $19 million
▪ Peanuts at $7.5 million
But even smaller crops — even fringe crops — took a beating.
Of the 20 farmers that received permits to grow hemp, six of them were heavily impacted by the storm. Weathers estimated that loss at $250,000.
“It could be a lot higher,” he said. “But we’re moving forward with permits for 2019.”
The problem with building a firm estimate of any crop loss, he said, is the water is still rising.
“The Clemson agents can’t get to some locations to assess,” he said. “We may have to come back and ask for more.”
David Weissman of The Sun News contributed to this report.