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S.C. Farmers Burdened By Catastrophic Rainfall, Crop Losses

In South Carolina, catastrophic rainfall is making this a grim year for one of the state's biggest industries: farming. Just when fall crops were ready to harvest, extensive flooding drowned fields and sidelined farm workers.

"Water was absolutely over our heads where we stand right now," says South Carolina lawmaker and farmer Kirkman Finlay III, as he walks through a low-lying field on his 6,000-acre farm in Columbia. About two months ago, he says, record-setting downpours led to such severe flooding that some of his workers used a boat to check on this area.

"At the foot of the hill where I live, it looked like something you would see Hollywood create," Finlay says. "You know when you're looking at a movie and it just is too spectacular? You're waiting for somebody to yell, 'Cut!' "

Across South Carolina, the early October storm flooded homes, destroyed roads and killed at least 16 people.

Farming accounts for one out of every 10 jobs in the state, and this year, many farmers will have the worst crop losses they've ever seen.

"The reports that you've heard about South Carolina agriculture, there is no exaggeration," says state agriculture commissioner Hugh Weathers. "I have seen all parts of this state, except maybe one corner ... severely impacted by the timing and the amount of this rain."

Some of the one-day rain totals were so large that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initially thought they were fake. Climate scientist Jake Crouch says the massive rainfall was the result of Hurricane Joaquin out in the Atlantic and an inland weather system.

"The two interacted to bring a flow of heavy tropical moisture into South Carolina, and both systems were moving so slowly that it was an unprecedented precipitation event," Crouch says.

And the rain was only the latest problem for farmers this year. First, low prices for cotton, peanuts and other commodities meant it'd be challenging year even with good weather. Then came drought over the summer, which made the corn crop almost a total failure for farmer John Long of Newberry, S.C.

"It wasn't like it was just one disaster," Long says.

Long says the floods "messed up the quality on the soybeans, and it also pretty much messed up the cotton crop. We're going to come up short this year. I told some folks it's a good thing I like soup and cheese toast, because I'm going to probably be eating a lot of it this winter."

About two hours east, in Turbeville, S.C., Jeremy Cannon is looking at significant losses on every one of his crops.

"There's farmers that's going to quit after this year if we don't find some help. I'm on the list. I've discussed it with my father. He's been doing it his whole life, and I've been doing it my whole life."

But if you can't pay your bills, he says, then there's not much of a choice but to shut down. Cannon is hoping for a federal emergency loan and says he'll decide whether to fold by March.

Copyright 2015 WFAE

Michael Tomsic
Michael Tomsic became a full-time reporter for WFAE in August 2012. Before that, he reported for the station as a freelancer and intern while he finished his senior year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Heââ
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