Farmers struggle through harvest after heavy rains

HEAVY RAINS CAUSE STRUGGLES

 

Robin Auldridge can’t recall a growing season as odd as 2013.

“I’m 53 and never seen one like this,” the Blythe farmer said. “Everything is different.”

Heavy storm systems that came – and stayed – dumped almost 45.5 inches in Richmond County this year, more than 14 inches above normal.

Although it was a blessing for aquifers parched by years of drought, too much of a good thing creates its own consequences.

“A lot of fruits and vegetables, the kind that mature out before July, got hurt really bad,” Aul­dridge said. “And pecans are hurt real bad, too.”

Soggy fields and waterlogged crops translate to lower yields and losses for farmers who invest heavily in spring plantings.

Even simpler crops such as hay were impacted, said Auldridge, who grows hay for his beef cattle.

“We didn’t get the cuttings we were supposed to,” he said. “In some areas it was so wet you can’t cut it all, and you need a certain amount of sunlight to dry it out. We got the rain, but we didn’t get enough sunlight.”

Richmond County, along with nearby Screven and Burke counties, were included in a recent disaster area designation by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vil­sack that also encompassed 36 South Carolina counties.

Farmers in those counties – where damage to peaches, soybeans, cotton and other crops exceeded 30 percent – are now eligible for aid through the department’s Farm Service Agency programs.

“There’s no question the sheer amount of rainfall we’ve had, in the time frame we had it, has negatively impacted the crops,” said Peyton Sapp, the University of Georgia Extension Coordinator for Burke County.

Early in the season, planting was affected by rains that left some areas too wet to plow.

Now that harvest time is here, some of those areas are still too wet to harvest.

“When it come times for wheat harvest, we have areas not harvestable,” Sapp said. “With corn, it’s the same thing: We still have areas that are standing in water in some of the fields.”

Burke County, ranked among the state’s top 10 agriculture counties with commodities valued at more than $132 million, could face challenges this year in almost all crops.

“One of the biggest things I believe we’ll see here is the quality of hay will be down significantly,” Sapp said. “That’s a big deal if you have hundreds of cows to feed.”

Sapp said it is still too early to tell how final harvest figures will be affected by the abundant rainfall.

Even in such a saturated year, he added, those rains are still a blessing to have after a prolonged drought.

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