While S.C. residents rush to the store to stock up on food before Hurricane Florence, the people who grow that food are trying to pick whatever is ripe as fast as they can.
The storm, which is expected to be a Category 4 when it makes landfall, and the potential for flooding, is certainly a threat to crops; the real killer could be timing
“If you get a storm like this in the summer it’s not as big of a deal as if it’s during harvest season,” said Charles Davis, a row crop expert at Clemson University’s agricultural extension in Richland County. “The problem with agriculture is it’s all about timing,”
The harvest schedule makes it an awkward time for Hurricane Florence to strike. Farmers are rushing to harvest the remaining 5 to 10 percent of corn that’s yet to be harvested, Davis said. Some, but not all, cotton plants are ready to be picked; peanuts are largely ripe but need several days to be dug up, sun-dried and then harvested, said David DeWitt, a row crop expert at Clemson University’s agricultural extension in Lee County.
With only days until Florence is expected to strike, most farmers are waiting for the storm to pass before harvesting, risking the peanuts going bad in the meantime, Davis said.
“That’s not the perfect option, but it’s the only option we have,” Davis said. “The thought of six to eight inches of rain on top of this is disheartening.”
Farmers aren’t entirely subject to Florence’s whims. One of the most important things they can do to prepare is to drain retention ponds, according to a news release from Clemson.
“We don’t want a repeat of 2015,” Davis said. “We don’t want pond dams overrunning and breaking.”
Though Davis said many farmers did draw down their ponds before the 2015 historic flooding, not even that was enough for how much the 2015 historical rains dumped on farmland. Some areas of South Carolina got two feet of rain in one weekend.
“There was no way to get ready for a 1,000-year flood,” Davis said.
The question of whether or not Hurricane Florence will bring a moderate rainfall or far more serious flooding is a source of anxiety for many farmers. But with hurricane forecasts changing by the hour, it seems farmers will just have to wait and see.
“The unknown is the worst thing at this point,” DeWitt said.