Sunshine brightens soggy spirits on South Carolina farms
It's been the mantra of farmers for time immemorial: "Make hay while the sun shines."
The sun has shone less often on South Carolina crops this summer. As welcomed as the reappearance of rain was after years of drought, it can be too much of a good thing.
"All of our major crops are behind schedule," said Scott Monfort, the state agronomy team leader for the Clemson University Extension Service. "When the soil is saturated and the creeks are up, there's not much place for all that water to go. It has delayed fieldwork significantly in many places, which has a ripple effect in producing a crop."
Rainfall totals so far this year are as much as twice normal, according to the State Climatology Office. However, recent breaks in the clouds have brought some relief — and even a little optimism — to farmers of major crops like peanuts, soybeans, corn and cotton.
The most recent report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) rates most major South Carolina crops in "good" condition, although still far behind their five-year average progress for this point in the season.
"We're about a week into having a little drier weather now and things are looking better. People are beginning to be able to get back into the field again," Monfort said. "But it's still a mess out there. There are some fields people won't get into for another week.
"It's very spotty. It just depends on where you are," he said. "There are pockets where we will be hurt severely and others that are going to have really good crops. Even in individual fields, you may have low spots where the ground is saturated while the crops on higher ground all look normal."
The NASS report places cotton and tobacco as the most heavily affected major agronomic crops, each rated barely more than 50 percent "good" or better. Two-thirds or more of the corn and peanut crops received those ratings.
Monfort said the delay in planting has been accompanied by problems applying fertilizer and pesticides to field crops — and keeping them from being washed away.
"We've been delayed getting gypsum on peanuts. There have been a lot of leaching problems — nutrients being washed from the soil," he said. "We're trying to catch up on weed issues. Diseases are starting to be a problem, but with a change in the weather we could still do very well."
As with the weather, farmers are vexed by the vagaries of prices.
Driven by strong demand and tight supplies — ironically, soggy weather this year followed last's year's drought in much of the Midwest corn belt — corn prices soared to near-record highs earlier this year. They have since plummeted more than 30 percent, the Chicago Board of Trade reported this week, as crop forecasts improved.
"Our growers are doing the best job they possibly can. They're keeping their spirits up and moving forward," Monfort said. "All crops are later than normal. We'll just hope for dry weather and a late frost. If we could dry out a little bit, we have a chance to make good crops."