Significant losses to the state’s cotton crop and moderate losses to the soybean crop are expected as a result of Hurricane Matthew, state agriculture officials said Tuesday.
And while many peanut farmers had made harvests prior to the storm’s punch, more than half the state’s peanut buying locations are without power, so that crop’s storage needs could soon be impacted, the agriculture department said.
In addition, future harvests of high-value fall fruits and vegetables will be impacted, the department said, though farmers were able to extract their initial harvests.
State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers and South Carolina Forestry Association Executive Director Cam Crawford did an initial damage assessment Monday that included a flyover of areas in the Pee Dee impacted by the hurricane.
“Farmers are facing very similar challenges to last October's flooding, and this natural disaster will be another significant setback to our state's No. 1 industry,” Weathers said.
Hurricane Matthew’s foray into the state came almost on the anniversary of last year’s October flood, and affected many of the same areas even as those farmers were still trying to recover, state officials said.
Jeremy Cannon, a fourth-generation farmer in Turbeville, last year was an outspoken advocate for state relief for farmers whose crops were wiped out by the October flood. Cannon lost his cotton, soybean and tobacco crops to the destruction.
“We actually had more flooding locally than we had during the flood,” Cannon said. Water in the fields rose faster and in a shorter period of time than during the flood, he said, but also receded faster.
In May, the Legislature overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of $40 million in state aid for farmers.
One of the biggest problems from the hurricane will be the cotton crop, 90 percent or more of which remain in the fields, he said, and about 40 percent of which had been defoliated in preparation for harvesting. With the crop missing the protection of the leaves, high winds from the hurricane blew cotton right out of the bolls, Cannon said.
“For that cotton east of Sumter, and certainly that east of Interstate 95 that was defoliated, it took a big hit,” said Cannon, who estimated the loss to the cotton crop at about 50 to 60 percent. Peanuts may fare better, he suggested, if they hadn’t been dug and did not lay under water for days.
Damages will become clearer over the next couple of weeks when farmers are able to get back in the fields.
“We were fairly fortunate,” said Holly Hill farmer Dean Hutto, who received about 13 inches of rain from the hurricane. “But it’s gotten off really well and the sunshine has been very much welcome.”
One of the biggest problems after last year’s historic flood was the days of lingering rainfall and a continued damp, dreary environment that denied crops the chance to dry out, Hutto recalled.
Hutto, who farms about 3,700 acres of cotton, soybeans, corn, wheat, and peanuts, said he finished harvesting all his peanuts, picked about half his cotton crop and gathered all his early soybeans that would have been damaged or destroyed in the storm the day before the hurricane hit South Carolina.
“I’m in a lot better spot than I was at this time last year,” Hutto said.
Farmers are encouraged to complete Clemson University’s online damage assessment form to aid officials in determining the full impact of the hurricane. The form is available online at: clemson.edu/public/emergency.
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398