Dry spell hurts crops

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COLUMBIA - South Carolina farmers will take a bigger financial hit from this summer's extended drought than the Easter freeze that devalued crops by $115 million, state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said.

Dusty ground lines the edge of a peach orchard outside Johnston, S.C., in Edgefield County. According to state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, the drought might have been more expensive for farmers than the Easter freeze.  Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Dusty ground lines the edge of a peach orchard outside Johnston, S.C., in Edgefield County. According to state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, the drought might have been more expensive for farmers than the Easter freeze.

"It's been a tough year," he said.

The freeze was rough on certain crops, Mr. Weathers said.

- Wheat growers lost 60 percent of the value of their crops.

- Farmers, on average, had to replant 25 percent of their corn.

- "A peach farmer? He lost his year."

According to the commissioner, the effect of the ongoing drought is more widespread, though he hasn't compiled a report on the estimated financial damage.

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee will convene in Columbia on Wednesday to consider elevating the status of the state's drought, this time from moderate to severe. The last time the state faced a severe drought was June 2002.

The current drought was upgraded to moderate June 6 and since then there's been little relief.

High temperatures have been accompanied by little rainfall.

As of last week, rainfall in some areas of the state, particularly in the Upstate, has been short by 13 inches.

The drought response team will decide this week if it's been enough.

For some farmers, the damage already has been done.

"The corn crop's already been made or it hasn't," said Aaron Wood, the executive director of the South Carolina Corn and Soy Bean Growers Association.

Mr. Weathers said that, according a "conservative" estimate, 40 percent of the state's 350,000 acres of hay will be lost to the drought.

That hurts farmers who use hay as a cash crop and those who need it to feed their cattle.

As a result, beef farmers are selling more of their herds because they don't have the necessary feed, Mr. Weathers said.

On average, the quantity and quality of tobacco will be down and so will its value per pound, he said.

But fall rain could still help the soybean, peanuts and cotton crops, Mr. Weathers said.

Ultimately, Mr. Wood said, farmers have learned to adapt to the whims of the weather.

"It's like any other business, you try to minimize, or manage, your risk," he said.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611, or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.

Andrew Davis Tucker/file

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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 09/04/07 - 05:03 am
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High temperatures and low

High temperatures and low rain fall hurts crops? Who knew?

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