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[EDITOR’S NOTE – Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton is a regular contributor to SPW. If you have an article you or idea you’d like to contribute, send it to us at info@southeastproduceweekly.com.

Tony Melton

Hurricane Florence was aptly named because most of the damage was from just below Florence, S.C. northward into North Carolina.

In South Carolina this storm had a personality of its own. Unlike Matthew two years ago, there was no dramatic, massive falling of trees — just a lot of rain and flooding. I am writing this a week after and the rivers, creeks, and streams have not crested yet.

If the roads were not washed away or flooded most South Carolinians not living in flood zones would give a sigh of relief and under their breath say, “I hate it for them but I am glad it hit North Carolina.”  However, we do have a lot of damage in South Carolina on farms and rural areas hidden from most city folks.

Since I work with produce — what many call the “red-headed stepchild” crops — I will concentrate on them.

‘Rot Permeating The Air’

First, thank goodness most of my farmers say, ‘I can lose enough on a spring crop of vegetables, why do I want to plant a fall crop?”  Therefore, most of them do not have fall warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, etc. Maybe a full-season crop like sweet potatoes, and a lot of what we call winter (cool season) crops.

Cotton melting in the wake of Florence

Most small vegetable farmers will have a patch of collards, turnips, or mustard greens. Even the large row-crop farmers will join in and have a small patch to sell at their farms.  Most of these winter crops were small and really took a beating in the storm.  Many sweet potatoes are flooded or have had saturated soil for a long period of time and I am afraid soon the farmers will be able to smell that characteristic smell of rot permeating the air around the fields.

I would also say, “Thank goodness most strawberries were not planted and most growers have delayed in laying the plastic.”  Only one half-patch of fall bearing berries had been planted in the affected area. But in two to three weeks I will be up to my neck in strawberry work.

The #1 canner in the nation for Southern vegetables (McCall Farms) is located just below Florence, S.C.  About 300 acres of vegetables grown for them in the Florence area were severely affected. With hundreds of acres in North Carolina destroyed, I can see that this is one reason why the cannery spreads the production of their crops all over the eastern U.S. A lot of folks all over the country including myself would have a fit if there was a shortage of the wonderful southern vegetables they can, including Margaret Holmes, Glory, Bruce’s, Peanut Patch, Veg-all and Allen’s.

Before Hurricane Florence I did not think about how many pecan orchards are in our area of the state. I generally visit the larger orchards to help with problems. But the small orchards with just a few trees, usually without irrigation, and in someone’s backyard or field corner add up to quite a few acres.

These small orchard folks usually pick-up the pecans by hand and sell at buying stations that pop-up all over our area during that season to make what they call “Christmas money.”  The bottom line is that a lot of people will have, as Dolly Parton would say, a “Hard Candy Christmas” this year.

If we in South Carolina keep getting hits like the “Storm of the Century (2015)”, Matthew (2016), and now Florence, it may become a situation like in the old Jerry Clower joke where a man has chased a lynx up a tree thinking it was a raccoon. In the ensuing ruckus, he shouted out to his fellow hunters, “Shoot up here amongst us — one of us has got to have some relief!”

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