Rainfall last week in several Georgia and South Carolina rural counties soaked dry, cracked farmland but might have come weeks too late to save a depleted summer harvest and give farmers the money they are thirsting for.
“We’re thankful for it but if it had come a month earlier it would’ve been a lot more help,” said Laurie Lawson, the state executive director of the South Carolina Farm Service Agency.
Dry weather throughout the summer months affected the yields of several crops, with corn most severely impacted with low production numbers, according to agriculturalists in both states. As farmers analyze the industry’s economy for summer harvests, they hesitate to plant normally for the fall and winter crops.
“They’re just holding on doing the best they can trying to be as conservative as they can,” Lawson said.
Pasture grasses grew sparsely after traces of rain fell during much of September leaving cattle grazing around to find small clumps to feed on.
“The cattle are just having a terrible time,” he said.
Soil moisture levels, which dropped considerably in previous weeks, improved across the state, with some areas including parts of Aiken County measuring more than four inches of rain, said South Carolina climatologist Hope Mizzell.
Since Sept 8., South Carolina has been in a moderate drought, which is the second level of severity in the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ monitoring system. The state drought committee will meet for a routine meeting Sept. 29 to determine if recent rains affected the drought status.
“It was a saving rain. The drought was spiraling. We were getting very concerned,” said Mizzell of rain last Wednesday through Friday.
Some areas in South Carolina only received a quarter-inch to one inch of rain, she said, but those totals are enough to improve soil conditions.
Farmers were reluctant to plant seed in dry ground, but soil could now be ready for oats, wheat and barley plantings after last week’s rain, Lawson said. The rain won’t help most summer crops that missed out on vital growing weeks during the drought, except a few late variety soybeans, he said.
Low production levels could be offset by high commodity prices which would lessen the drought’s economic impact, said Eddie Wells, the director of the South Carolina field office for the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Farmers on the Georgia side report similar conditions for grass planting after crippling yields of corn and soybeans.
Counties in the southern two-thirds of Georgia have been in an extreme drought for several months, said Kevin Chambers, of the Georgia Environmental Protections Division. Typically, autumn is a dry season and relief may not come until winter rains, he said.
“There’s no grass and no moisture to plant winter grass,” said Peyton Sapp, Burke County extension coordinator for the University of Georgia cooperative extension.
Currently, farmers aren’t planting winter rye grass and some have resorted to selling cows that can’t be fed, Sapp said. The latest rains were too late to help summer crops, he said.
Consumers could see higher beef prices as cattle herds shrink in size and can’t meet demand across the nation, he said.
On lands across Burke County, farmers try to rotate their plantings and change crops when one struggles to produce. Some farmers switched from corn to grain this summer and whole soybean farms were abandoned because nothing was growing, he said.
“We are hopeful that the diversity in operations will help them going into next year,” Sapp said.
Irrigated corn farms had an easier time yielding produce and hot days even helped stalks to grow quickly and keep disease away, he said. But, irrigation units couldn’t give farmers much help when pond levels dropped or water sources dried up completely.
As farmers begin to harvest peanuts in Burke and surrounding Georgia counties, growers expect the crop’s quality to be severely affected by dry weather. However, a widespread supply shortage could force buyers to take peanuts that would have otherwise been discarded, Sapp said.
“Ever though the quality of peanuts is down, we’re still in hopes that those will at least be marketable and help us survive this drought,” he said.