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Pee Dee farmers hit hard by a big storm once again

September 20, 2018
Cullen Bryant, a Dillon farmer, shows the damage done to his crop following Tropical Storm Florence.
Cullen Bryant, a Dillon farmer, shows the damage done to his crop following Tropical Storm Florence.

DILLON, S.C. — While many Pee Dee residents and businesses begin to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, farmers are faced with uncertainty.

South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice paid a visit to the Pee Dee and surveyed crop damage during an aerial tour of Chesterfield, Dillon, Florence, Horry, Marlboro and Marion counties Tuesday.

Weathers met with farmers in Dillon, Marion and Lake City before returning to Columbia.

“We had good engagement with upwards of 60 farmers who verified what we suspected: Cotton was the most impacted by high wind, followed by peanuts damaged by drenched soil, and soybeans whose pods were blown from the plant,” Weathers said.

Among the farmers who were in contact with the commissioner and congressman was Cullen Bryant of Dillon. Bryant told the Morning News on Wednesday that he is in the midst of deciding what to do with nearly 750 acres of cotton that were affected by the storm’s rain and wind this past weekend.

“A lot of the cotton has already blown out on the ground,” Bryant said. “Seeds have already started sprouting, and even if we were to pick it, it’s going to lower the value of the crop. I’m of the opinion that some of our crop is damaged to the point that it would cost more to harvest it than what we would get out of it.

“I guess it’s kind of a wait-and-see game, and time will only tell if it is salvageable or not. It’s also going to vary some by locations.”

Bryant said the flood in 2015, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and now the storm in 2018 have affected not just the farmers in the Pee Dee area but the entire agribusiness industry.

“It’s really tough, because all three years we had the potential for some good crop yields,” Bryant said. “There’s nothing we could do about it. It’s not like you can take preventative measures to protect your crop. You just have to take it as the good Lord sends it. Equipment payments, loan payments, fertilizer and chemical dealers are all going to be greatly affected. It has a very negative impact upon agriculture in general and those who make their livelihood off of it, whether that be farmers or suppliers.”

Weathers said in a media advisory that “no crop was a total loss” and “those [crops] that suffered the most were the closest to harvest.”

Weathers estimated that the crop damage from Tropical Storm Florence falls between that from the 1,000-year flood ($330 million-plus) and Hurricane Matthew ($50 million).

“As I said to the farmers at one of the stops, this has become all too familiar,” Weathers said. “One of the farms we visited [Tuesday], I’ve actually visited that same farm two of the last three years because of natural disasters.”

“Dillon, Marion, Marlboro counties — in that order — appear to be the most severely impacted by crop damage,” Weathers said.

In Marion County, DuPree Atkinson of Atkinson’s Farms said the losses were great across the board for the Pee Dee agribusiness industry.

“We’re glad we didn’t get the 140 mph winds, but damage is threefold,” Atkinson said. “Cotton planted early is almost gone, and about 50 percent of cotton, in general, is gone. Tobacco that was in the field is basically 100 percent gone. Soybeans may have benefited from the rain, but they suffered some losses, too, I’m sure. We didn’t have the downed trees on the fences and power loss we had with Matthew, though.”

Even with the losses, Atkinson said, the farmers could have gotten much worse.

“[Hurricane] Matthew was so widespread,” Atkinson said. “This time, it’s more in low-lying areas. It’s more localized. It’s definitely stifling the ag transportation industry, as you kind of have to nitpick your way around. The famer is an eternal optimist. ‘Maybe it will get better next year’ is our favorite slogan. Two out of three years is pretty tough to handle, but I guess we’ll survive and continue to move forward.”

Weathers said that the agriculture losses in South Carolina should be reported to the federal government following the storm.

“There are no more farm disaster programs that might have come to the rescue eight or 10 years ago,” Weathers said. “Agriculture needs to be a part of the business, residential and transportation losses reported by Gov. [Henry] McMaster to the federal government.

“We must be certain that agriculture is at the table and included when we analyze the financial impact of Florence.”

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