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South Carolina Potato Farm Plan Goes to Court

A massive potato farm’s plan to siphon water from the Edisto River basin landed its owners in court Friday as outraged opponents moved to stop the multi-billion gallon withdrawals in Aiken and Barnwell counties.

Friends of the Edisto, an environmental group, filed an appeal challenging withdrawals by Michigan-headquartered Walther Farms, which wants to irrigate thousands of acres of potato fields with water from the Edisto River’s narrow South Fork.

The appeal, filed in the S.C. Administrative Law Court, said state regulators broke a series of state and federal laws, including South Carolina’s 2010 surface water act, when they approved Walther’s plan last spring. The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision in March was the first since the law took effect in 2012.

Walther’s operation would be the state’s largest potato farm, rivaling any ever developed in South Carolina.

Friends of the Edisto’s appeal seeks to stop any withdrawals until a hearing can be held. It asks that the administrative court either reverse DHEC’s decision to approve the withdrawal or revise the withdrawal enough “to protect the river.” Withdrawals have not yet started.

Tim Rogers, a Columbia lawyer and president of the friends group, said the South Fork could suffer if the courts don’t stop Walther’s plan, projected to consume about 9.6 billion gallons annually between two different sites.

The South Fork of the Edisto is no more than 25 feet wide and four feet deep in places. Some locals say it is so shallow at times that they’ve walked across the channel without getting their knees wet.

Located mostly in Aiken, Barnwell and Orangeburg counties, the black-water river is considered significant because it contains the headwaters of the main stem of the Edisto River. The river’s main section runs through the nationally known ACE Basin nature preserve in the Low country.

Rogers said both the South Fork and the main stem of the Edisto are in jeopardy.

Crops Yielding Well Despite Tough Weather Year

Agriculture remains North Carolina’s largest industry and eastern state farm products contribute heavily to the local economy.

Area farmers may not ring up their highest dollar returns for the 2013 season but, after an early alarm, yields for field crops grown in some parts of the appear be delivering a good year package for farmers.

The 2013 growing season resulted in a historically high corn yield for some parts of the state, and cotton –as horrible as officials say it looked in July, made a significant rebound.

As late as mid-September, Southeast Farm Press was predicting below average yields for most North Carolina field crops, reporting that “The latest information from the North Carolina office of the National Agricultural Statistic Service projects a reduction in most crop production this year, with the exception of corn.”

“The rainy weather extended into August further hampered small grain production and generally putting the crop farther behind than any crop in the past 20 years: The state received above normal precipitation and below normal temperatures for most of August,” the report said. However, after most areas receiving below average rainfall, small grain too made a nice comeback.

Long Time Toy Maker Still Successful

On Christmas morning yesterday, many farm boys gathered by the tree in hopes that one of those packages Santa brought contained a toy tractor just like their dad’s. As Todd Gleason reports – if they’re lucky – it will be American made from Dyersville, Iowa – home of both where the Kevin Costner baseball movie “Field of Dreams” and toy maker Joseph Ertl:

“It started in 1945 when my father was on strike at a local foundry and he started making castings in his basement. He made a toy tractor and it sold so well that he never went back to his job. I grew into the business and when I was in high school we started to get into die casting and we had to have drawings so I started making the drawings. I have been designing them ever since.”'

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.