Wild weather swings dampen Lowcountry crops

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Wild weather swings dampen Lowcountry crops

By CASEY CONLEY
cconley@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, August 3, 2012   |  522 Words  |  

As a historic drought baked fields across the Midwest this summer, Lowcountry farmers battled wild weather swings that lowered crop yields.

Although only a few farms suffered serious crop loss, many have reported diminished output brought on by long periods of above-average temperatures with only occasional bursts of heavy rainfall that left standing water in some fields.

"From the time I planted, it went from being good (weather) to dry to really wet and back to dry," said Frankie Stanley, of David's Produce in Sheldon. "Now we're getting a little rain again."

During one two-week stretch this summer, Stanley's nine-acre farm received at least 15 inches of rain. Other weeks it was so dry he hauled water into the fields.

About 10 miles away, at Tyler's Farm in Ridgeland, consistent lack of rainfall was the problem.

"It's been devastating on us," Alphonso Tyler said. "Some areas of Jasper County haven't gotten any rain. It's hurt us."

Official rainfall data from May through July for Beaufort and Jasper counties was not available Friday. The National Weather Service office in Charleston collects data for Savannah and Charleston but not areas in between.

However, drought conditions persist in every South Carolina county, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. In Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, the drought was downgraded to "incipient" in June after almost a year of "moderate" drought.

York Glover of the Clemson Cooperative Extension office in Beaufort County said the region's corn and soybean crops have suffered because of high heat and lack of water.

"In some cases, there is probably no (corn) crop," he said this week. "The ears on the corn would not develop at all. So you have really no crop at all worth harvesting. With soybeans, when they start developing pods, when there is not sufficient water, the pods won't develop."

Farmers who planted corn early tended to have the best yields, he said.

High heat also inhibits development of tomatoes and other vegetables, Glover said, noting that "crops cannot set fruit because of the heat" even with advanced irrigation systems.

Paul Kearns, of Yahveh Farms in northern Jasper County, said his farm had a decent summer season and is getting ready for fall. He said preparation goes a long way during challenging weather conditions.

"I have been doing this for four years, and it's something every year," he said.

Recent rainfall, although not enough to salvage damaged crops, could bode well for the fall planting season, Glover said, which typically includes tomatoes, beans and watermelon.

But as any veteran farmer knows, there are no guarantees when it comes to the weather.

"Farming is a gamble in a lot of ways," Stanley said.

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