Local farmers fight drought, economic issues

Published 7:23 pm Monday, August 11, 2008

The current drought is having an impact on the Slaters&squo;&bsp; farming.

The Slaters monitor rain totals each month and it didn&squo;t start out bad this year. In fact, in March the Slaters recorded more than five inches of rain.

&bsp;But June was painful, Dave said. In June, only .78 inches of rain dropped on their farm.

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Add in the poor housing market, and the turf industry is hurting right now, he said.

&dquo;It&squo;s kind of a double whammy to have the drought effect as well,&dquo; he said.

But Slater is finding more creative ways to irrigate his turf farm. Currently, he&squo;s abandoned any irrigation during the heat of the day, switching to irrigating at night.

He gets a deeper watering at night, he said, which allows him to conserve water by going longer between irrigations. He advises his customers to do the same thing.

When he irrigates during the day, much of the water vaporizes and doesn&squo;t sink into the turf as well, he said.

Slater also is working hard to improve his soil chemistry. On a 25-acre field, he&squo;ll add 50 tons of lime, which creates a heavier root system. According to Slater, the crop will tolerate stressful times better.

Crop farmers

For the crop farmers, the picture is a little more blurry, Henry Gramling said.

Gramling, who owns peach orchards and a fresh market in Gramling, S.C., said that there may be many effects on the farming and food market.

&dquo;It&squo;s hard to tell what the fallout (of the current drought) is,&dquo; he said, adding, &dquo;We could see a manifestation of last year&squo;s drought in this year&squo;s crop.&dquo;

Last year, area crop farmers had to deal with more than just the drought. A lot of the peach crop and other crops were wiped out by the freeze in the early part of the year.

According to Gerald Harbinson of the North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the success of a particular farm this year depends on whether the farmer has the water to irrigate.

&dquo;As long as they can irrigate, they&squo;re doing okay,&dquo; he said.

He said he hasn&squo;t heard of any wells going dry, but he has noticed that creeks have gone down drastically.

The Pacolet River is the lowest Slater has ever seen it, he said.

But having the water&squo;s not enough, Gramling said.

&dquo;The problem is that you can&squo;t afford to irrigate,&dquo; he said.

Gramling points to the high costs of fuel and the market for the crops isn&squo;t enough to pay the costs.

&dquo;It comes down to economics and not agriculture and engineering,&dquo; he said. &dquo;That&squo;s kind of where this thing is headed right now.&dquo;

The strawberry crop was excellent this year, Gramling said, but other crops will fall prey to the same problems as the peach crop.

So what advice do farmers have?

&dquo;People need to buy and freeze, store and can, to prepare,&dquo; Gramling said.