Future of Horry County generational farms at risk

Future of Horry County generational farms at risk

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Four generations of farming will soon be over for Double R Farms.

"My daddy made a living farming. His daddy made a living farming," said Ronald Rabon, owner of Double R Farms. "He raised us farming, which I've raised mine, but they can't raise theirs."

Rabon grows cotton and soybeans on 1,200 acres of land in Horry County.

His children used to help him on the farm when they were growing up, but he said they can't be out on the tractor full-time now and feed their own families at the end of the day. They have other full-time jobs.

"There ain't nothing I'd rather have than to have them here with me," Rabon said. "But I'd be a bad daddy if I said, 'Stay just so I can survive,' when I know that they can make more money doing something else and they could have some kind of benefits and health insurance."

Rabon said his sons still have an interest in farming.

"If things were like it should be, I could call Chase today and say, 'Son, come on back. Get on this tractor. Let's go to work. You can make just as much or more than where you're at right now,' he'd probably burn his truck up getting here," Rabon said.

However, they can't take the risk.

"The last two years, we ain't made no money," he said. "All we've done is survive."

Then, the October floods hit, destroying the crops and costing Rabon more than $200,000.

He said farmers used to have a larger profit margin to rely on to overcome those kinds of disasters. Now, his costs have soared. He took out almost half a million dollars in loans this year to plant his crops.

"I used to spread fertilizer for other people for $63 a ton. That's how much it cost," he said. "That same fertilizer I'm buying today to go in this cotton field is over $500."

Rabon said the prices for his crops have plummeted. He said he'd get as much as 87 cents for a pound of cotton years ago. Now, he'll get 61 cents for the same amount.

"It won't pay the bills," he said.

When Rabon is finished farming, his land will be too.

"When I die or get too old, it'll probably have to be sold," he said. "There will be houses growing on it. I want to see these people eat these houses. Learn how to eat these houses instead of grow crops."

However, some younger people are making farming possible by being creative.

Twenty-five-year-old Miracle Lewis works full-time as the 4-H agent at Clemson Extension to fund Home Sweet Farm, where she is also the fourth generation to live on the farm.

"I probably invest 75 percent of what I make from my job at extension back on the farm," she said.

Lewis farms before and after work, during lunch breaks and on weekends; however, she can't give up her steady job.

"I have school loans to pay back," she said. "I have bills to pay."

Lewis also has to be creative in her marketing in order for her farm to survive. She uses social media to give customers a look at the process behind getting the food from the farm to their forks.

"I can tell you about when I planted it, how I cared for it, what was sprayed or fertilized," Lewis said. "And when I harvested it, how it's been handled and who helped me, how long it took me or how hard I worked."

She's also growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and sells them at farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants and on-site at Home Sweet Farm. She said produce prices luckily stay fairly steady.

"We're just dabbling in this and that until we decide what we can find a market in and what we're good at doing," Lewis said.

Both Lewis and Rabon agree farmers are in desperate need of help from the government.

"I think the government needs to give young farmers more assistance," Lewis said. "They need to encourage them to start farming even if it is on a small scale in the beginning. They need to give them bigger tax breaks. They need to give them help with school loans."

"There needs to be some kind of safety net," Rabon said. "Why else would a young man want to borrow half a million dollars with no safety net?"

Clemson's College of Agriculture Forestry and Life Sciences has seen a 55 percent increase in enrollment during the past 10 years compared to a 27 percent increase in enrollment for Clemson overall, according to statistics provided by Katie Black, director of student recruitment for CAFLS.

In 2015, 1,741 students were enrolled, compared to 1,126 students in 2005, Black said.

Copyright 2016 WMBF News. All rights reserved.