Drought continues to impact South Carolina farmers despite rain

Published: Oct. 16, 2019 at 6:15 PM EDT
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NEWBERRY COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The rain this week is a welcome sight to many areas of South Carolina that have been experiencing weeks of ongoing drought. The drought has impacted nearly 3 million residents across the state of South Carolina, which is about two-thirds of the state’s population.

Many farmers in the Midlands have been battling the drought through the harvest season, including John Long who owns Overbridge Farm in Newberry.

He has been growing a variety of crops for decades and while he said the rain is coming just in time for his wheat crop, which is going to be planted in the next few weeks, he said the majority of his crops needed the rain about a month ago and nd the damage has already been done.

“Did the rain help soybeans, absolutely not,” Long said. “The beans were already done. This rain is not going to help them at all.”

Long said it’s the soybeans and corn, which needed rain in August and September, that have been affected the most.

“The weather has become a lot more erratic,” Long said. “We may get the same amount of rainfall in a year but it comes in bursts and it’s not as evenly distributed as I remember it being years ago.”

He said that a few of his fields are irrigated, but the lack of water for the majority of his crops has resulted in 30 to 40 percent fewer soybeans than normal.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that things that do change, things will get better, but the problem is, can you hang on until they do get better,” Long said “And we certainly don’t want to get into the position where we keep eating into our equity just to keep farming.”

He said this year’s drought only increases the strain on soybean farmers like him in South Carolina. He said that because of retaliatory tariffs from China, even with a good harvest his soybean crops aren’t profitable.

“Before all of this happened margins were very thin, but after the prices were reduced due to the tariffs the margins have really become upside down so what we do really is not sustainable, I don’t know how else to say it,” Long said.

Farmers in South Carolina received relief from the federal government in the wake of the tariffs. From September 2018 to May 2019 South Carolina farmers split $24 million in aid.

“It’s kind of like a drop in the bucket really,” Long said. “It’s not something that is going to make a decision about us staying or not staying, but it is helpful.”

Long said that many farmers are optimistic that things will get better. He added that the drought that hurt his crops this season is less upsetting than the tariffs because the weather is up to mother nature, while Long said that the tariffs feel inflicted by the government’s decisions.

The 24 million in aid to South Carolina farmers was allocated by county, with some counties like Newberry, receiving a few hundred thousand while others received millions. Orangeburg received the most aide in the state with about $2 million. Sumter and Calhoun received high amounts of aid as well with about 1.5 million each.

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