SC Farmers Lose $125m from Florence

September 21, 2018
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RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network): The estimated agricultural loss in eight South Carolina counties most severely affected by Hurricane Florence is $125 million, according to assessments from Clemson Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture.  

SC Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers reviews damage after Hurricane Florence
Image: SC Dept of Agriculture

“We are estimating that the total crop impact on crops and livestock, facilities and otherwise is going to be $125 million,” said South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers.  To put it into perspective, that’s twice the economic impact of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and a little more than one-third the losses of the 2015 flood. Weathers said the loss of greatest concern is the cotton crop.

Cotton damage in Dillon County from Hurricane Florence
Image: SC Dept of Agriculture
“The bolls of cotton plants are opening up and when I was there Tuesday, literally, cotton lint had blown from the cotton stalk to the ground and that that had not been blown to the ground was barely hanging on. I guess, hanging on by a thread,” he said. “Based on conversations with farmers and talking to Clemson Extension we think that the cotton crop has suffered a 75 percent loss in the eight counties that seem to be the impact zone.”

Those eight counties are Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Dillon, Florence, Marlboro, Chesterfield and Williamsburg. The region is responsible for a majority of row production crops in the state.

The total initial damage from Hurricane Florence is estimated at $1.228 billion, according to the South Carolina Farm Bureau. A moderate loss of soybeans and peanuts is estimated.

“High-value fall fruits and vegetables will also be impacted. Livestock losses are still being assessed but are expected to be substantial,” says the Farm Bureau.

Weathers toured the region most impacted by Florence Tuesday, on foot and by helicopter. He also talked with about 45 farmers at Bazley Farm in Marion County. He was encouraged that the farmers did not express the same despair that they had after the 2015 flood. “Compared to three years ago the farmers are just looking to say, ‘Okay. We’ve got this challenge. Let’s deal with it. We’re going to push to have agriculture as part of the relief package. We think the political environment is a little better for that to happen this year.”

Despite a dry season prior to the storm, Weathers said farmers managed to make some efforts ahead of time to minimize damage. Some were able to clear drainage ditches. “We prepare for them as best we can,” he said.

Wednesday he met with President Trump and FEMA officials. “Given how severe the situation is, I’m encouraged by the teamwork that’s going on,” he said.

Farmers are encouraged to complete Clemson’s online damage assessment form to aid officials in determining the full impact of the hurricane. The form is available online here.