Record summer rainfall leaves local farmers struggling

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - This summer, Mother Nature sent us a blow. It's greatly impacted our number one industry in the state, an industry that rakes in $34 billion a year.

From out in the fields, to the many aisles of the grocery stores, to your own kitchen table, it's all connected.

As Kevin Gowdy looks out, it's hard not to think about the last few months.

"A dry year will worry you to death," he says, "a wet year will starve you to death. It's clearly been the worst year I've ever had."

From May to August, nearly 23 inches of rain fell on Kevin's farm in Cades. It left his fields unusable, and his crops drowned, rotten and worthless.

"Probably around the end of June and the first part of July, when we were really trying to harvest some butterbeans and we had severe quality issues, no yields," Gowdy says. "We had acres and acres that just died from drowning. I pretty much knew right then, that this summer was going to be a bust."

In a business where Mother Nature rules, it's a constant battle between the things they can control and the variables that can break their season and their bank.

"I think when you look at the other disasters in recent years, it's been for just the opposite: too dry," says Martin Eubanks with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. "When you're not getting the rain, you have issues. When you're getting the rainfall, you can't get into the fields, and if you do, often your nutrients have leached out of the fields. So it presents a different set of problems."

"We can survive a drought, we can irrigate," Gowdy says. "We can't pump water off."

For Kevin and many farmers, summer crops pay the bills and the winter is where they finally see profits. For the first time in 27 years, Kevin isn't sure he'll even break even.

When asked if he is worried that he won't be able to make a profit this season, Gowdy replies: "If I knew I could get to January 1st and have all of my bills paid and just be able to start off even next year. Right now, I'd be willing to take that."

While he worries about providing for his family, there is the other issue of how the wet season is impacting what we all pay at the store.

"When you look at the grocery stores, the prices for items that we grow may not impact the price at grocery level if crops are not impacted in other areas," explains Eubanks.

Agriculture is a global market. Even if South Carolina or our entire region suffers terrible losses like we did this year, as long as the food supply nationwide is available, we can still import. Prices will go up slightly and quality may dip, thanks to the downside of transporting in.

When asked if the worst is over, when it comes to the peak price of food, Eubanks replies, "Yeah, I think things have stabilized somewhat at this point."

But what residents in the area will continue to see is difficulty finding locally-grown products.

"A lot of people been calling around, 'where can we get pumpkins?'" says Tony Melton, a farmer agent for Clemson Extension. "The pumpkins really had a hard time in this part of South Carolina and up into the mountains. So we're gonna have to bring them in from up north."

Farming takes risk, patience and a lot of faith. Even though this summer will go down in the books as one of the toughest, farmers still see a glimmer of hope in the midst of darkness.

"There's still a chance to make some good crops in terms of peanuts, some of the cotton, some of the soybeans," Eubanks says. "So even with the delay in planning there are some opportunities and some bright spots."

Just like the timing of the rain, the first big test for the winter season will be the first freeze. Until then, it is unclear how much this is going to impact their bottom line overall, and how much it will impact our wallets.

Low interest loans are now at arm's reach for farmers impacted in every single county of our state. Farmers have until April of next year to apply with USDA Farms Service Agency. We are told that as of October 2013, only two farmers have signed up. That number is expected to skyrocket once farmers assess the total loss in the new year.

However, details about the USDA Farms Service Agency loans are inaccessible due to the partial government shutdown that began on October 1. WMBF News will continue to monitor this situation and will report any lasting impact the shutdown may have on our farmers.

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