Southern Farmers Hit Hard By Drought
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ As one hot, dry day follows another this summer, Southern growers are watching everything from tobacco to peaches wilt in the fields, and they’re taking a beating at the market for it.
″It’s the worst year I’ve seen in a long time,″ said Junior Zimmerman, who was trying with little success to sell baskets of bell, banana and jalapeno peppers at the State Farmers Market on Friday.
Nearby, Ernest Watkins wasn’t having much more luck peddling his peaches.
″The people just want larger peaches. That’s something they’re not going to get,″ said Watkins. His crop is small, with much of its juiciness sucked out by lack of water.
Growers of melons, beans, peppers, corn, soybeans, tobacco and other produce also are in trouble, as are dairy farmers who are running low on hay.
On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, farmers anticipate harvesting about two-thirds of the vegetables they normally pick because of stunted growth, said Toni Radler, a Virginia Agriculture Department spokeswoman.
But shoppers probably will see little change at the supermarket cash register. That’s because the drought appears only to be badly hurting a few states from Virginia to Georgia, and stores stock produce from across the country, said Bob Rogers, assistant commissioner for marketing at the South Carolina Agriculture Department.
Among the hardest-hit states is South Carolina, where Gov. Carroll Campbell asked federal officials earlier this week to issue an agricultural disaster declaration.
Crops have sustained an estimated $200 million in damage, and the state has received only about 40 percent of its normal rainfall since June.
Also hurting South Carolina’s melon growers this year was unexpected competition from Florida, a condition also brought about by weather.
Florida had a late frost, forcing melon growers to plant late. The result is that melon crops from both states are hitting the market about the same time, holding prices down.
″It’s just like someone said, ’Farming’s the only form of legalized gambling in this state, anyhow,‴ said Pete Livingston, a market specialist with South Carolina’s Agriculture Department.