South Carolina Farmers Talk Hurricane Matthew Impact, Aftermath

December 8, 2016 11:32 AM

For growers in the southeast, 2016 has been a challenging year. Marion County, S.C. has seen extreme heat, tropical storms and a hurricane this season alone. However, farmers remain thankful they got any crop at all following multiple years of tough times.

“[This is] an unharvested field of peanuts,” said Johnston Atkinson, a relationship manager with Arbor One Farm Credit. “This is zero production and a complete loss.”

This set of words is one bankers and growers know all too well in northeast South Carolina.

“In our area, you’re going to see a lot of cotton and peanut farmers who will have a loss on their crop insurance,” said Atkinson. “They’ll be able to pay off operating expenses, but that’s about as far as it will go.”

Northeast South Carolina experienced extreme heat this summer, then Hurricane Matthew hit in October, just in time for harvest.

While cotton harvest is almost complete, some fields in Marion County are unharvested and full of hard lock cotton.

“We had a couple of fields left but they weren’t worth picking,” said Neal Baxley, a farmer. “We’re probably going to get about half of what we expect. We normally figure on a 900 pound dryland cotton crop. We probably won’t even get that.”

Soybeans, corn and tobacco were not impacted as much in his area. However, cotton and peanuts took a hit. Baxley is expecting yields to be half of his normal Virginia peanut crop. 

“It’s so disappointing with the peanuts,” said Baxley. “We had such a promising crop.”

Buying stations are seeing it too with small yields across all types of peanuts.

“If you take out last year, this station was buying pretty much two tons to the acre,” said Dupree Atkinson, co-owner of Pee Dee Peanut. “This year, we’re going to buy 2,800 pounds to the acre. That’s a pretty significant loss.”

Hurricane Matthew is just one challenge. These farmers are facing two tough growing seasons back to back. Last year brought a frost, freeze, drought and flood.

“We estimated at least a 40 percent yield loss due to the drought alone,” said William Hardee, Clemson agronomy agent. “Every crop we had, if it wasn’t wiped out from the drought, it was wiped out by the flood.”

Some pockets received 20 inches of rain while other areas got roughly 40, that didn’t stop until into December 2015.

Growers say this year, the rains stopped after Matthew. It created a better year with fewer unharvested acres. The two years in a row of tough conditions are straining farmers.

“In order to be able to work with customers, we had to look at every loan and make sound credit decisions and try to keep the farmers going again for another year,” said Johnston Atkinson.

“I’m just worried a lot of guys have burned through a lot of their equity and working capital,” said Baxley. “They need to get things going to get 2017 started.”

That’s why farmers say 2017 needs to be a profitable one. Regardless of the challenges, farmers here are pressing forward.

“We’re optimistic,” said Baxley. “Next year is always going to be better.”

Hardee says more acres were unharvested last year than 2016. For some farmers, this marks three seasons of tough weather conditions and tight incomes. 

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