With the sun shining, bright green plants popping up, and baby animals frolicking in the fields, it would be easy to assume that business is back to normal after the devastation that Lowcountry farmers faced only six months ago with the 1,000-year-flood. But while farmers are looking forward to this season with hope, whether or not the season will deliver remains to be seen.
Reflecting on the months after the floods is brutal. Those of us in the industry had to watch the waters continue to rise long after the much publicized flooding had made national headlines. With ditches and roads washed out, ponds filled to the brim, and the water table saturated, every inch of rain felt like an ocean. The shellfish industry took a major hit with beds closing two days after the season opened, while many livestock producers had to scramble to move their animals to higher ground if there was any to be found. Hundreds of farmers have spent months standing at the edge of their destroyed fields unable to bring equipment in to make repairs, prepare their fields, or plant their next crop, all while the bills continue to pile up.
While farmers are no strangers to the hardships created by weather extremes and market fluctuation, last year was a trifecta of trouble. We had a summer drought, a drop in market prices for commodity farmers, and the worst flood our state has ever seen. Farming is risky and although successful farm businesses plan for the worst, circumstances last year put everyone to the ultimate test. A number of farms shut their doors and many are literally banking on this year’s crops to keep them in business. For those gearing up for the season, one of the biggest challenges will be finding, affording, and keeping labor.
Digging into the reality of farming is something not everyone has the stomach for, but with only one percent of our population farming, it is in our best interest to not only understand the challenges that farmers are facing but to take an active role in ensuring this industry can be a profitable and realistic business venture for the next generation. That, quite literally means, putting your money where your mouth is. Consider this: Despite the growing popularity of the “eat local” movement, South Carolina is still importing over 90 percent of its food. Challenge yourself to eat more locally, sign-up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, and make the farmers’ market a part of your routine. Even more importantly, get educated on the policies impacting our farmers and our food. The industry was facing serious issues long before the rains came and will continue to remain unstable even with an increase in consumer demand.