Many South Carolina farmers use surface water to irrigate their fields, but their voices are being drowned out by special interest groups in the statehouse.
So to stress how important this is, we asked real family farmers for their perspective. Here’s what they had to say:
Mike Keisler is the owner of James R. Sease Farms Inc. and “The Patch” where he grows greens, vegetables, and strawberries.
SCFB: How dependent is your farm on surface water?
Totally, we live in a unique area of Lexington County where we are sitting on top of a granite dome which is all but impossible to drill through to reach water underground. We have holding ponds for water to irrigate with during the summer months. Stricter or more rules governing the use of ground or surface water is unnecessary and a burden on the farmers trying to make a living supplying food to those who don’t farm.
Jim Weldon is the owner of Palmetto Nursery in Anderson County.
SCFB: How would limiting your access to surface water impact your nursery and greenhouse?
[It would be] devastating! My nursery business is absolutely dependent on adequate irrigation water. No water, no nursery!
Joey Link irrigates sod and hay at Bishop Branch Farms in Anderson and Oconee counties.
SCFB: If you did not have access to adequate supplies of surface water for irrigation purposes, what impact would that have on your farming operation?
We would shut the gates on our operation. The input costs of our crops combined with the inherent risks of farming are too great to bear without access to adequate amounts of irrigation water.
Arthur Black is the owner of Black’s Peaches and Black’s Roadside Market. He grows peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers and blackberries.
Increasing restrictions on surface water usage would put a severe strain on my operation. We in the upstate are not blessed with aquifers to pull water from beneath the ground and because of this rely on rain and surface water almost exclusively to water our crops. Our roadside market not only sells the products we raise but we also hold tours and field trips for thousands of school children each year and one of the things we try to impress upon them is that we are good stewards of the land and try to show them the different methods we have developed to conserve water through different practices, some of which include individual drip heads, mulching and only watering crops when needed. More rules and regulations are not the answer; good common sense is what is needed.
Dean Hutto grows cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat and soybeans on Hutto Farms in Orangeburg County.
The weather in South Carolina can go from one extreme to the next at the drop of a hat. When it hasn’t rained in 10 days in the midst of a July heat wave, irrigation is the only thing that gives me any hope for making a crop. My farm is 20% irrigated, so irrigation is far from a savior, but instead it is a necessity for me. A twenty percent chance to possibly make ends meet is far from a good business scenario, but without irrigation I might not have a chance at all.
Trent Rentz of Triple R Farms of Ehrhardt LLC said, “Irrigation makes the difference in making a profit or not.”
Wingard Copeland of Copeland Farms in Ehrhardt, SC added, “Irrigation is the lifeblood of our cattle and row crop operation.”
And for Andrew Carter with C & H Farms in Ehrhardt, SC, “Surface ponds are used to water our cows and are very important to our operation.”
Harriet Belue with Belue Farms in Boiling Springs irrigates peaches, strawberries, vegetables and also waters cattle. The farm uses both surface and groundwater.
“If we were restricted to only rain water, we would not continue operating our farm. Period. We currently drip water to strawberry and vegetable plants which have their roots covered with plastic. This conserves the water that might otherwise be lost through evaporation. With peaches, we drip water to the base of each tree trunk again to minimize loss of water to evaporation. We must utilize ground and surface water to survive. It’s that important.
When folks abandon their garden in the summer because there’s not enough rain, they come into our store and are glad that we have watered our fruit and vegetables. If farms are not allowed to access surface and groundwater, there will be fewer and fewer local farms and therefore less local food. It will be shipped in from other countries. I would prefer not to rely on other sources for our food supply,” Harriet said.
Thad and Jennifer Wimberly, Wimco Farms: Irrigation is vital to our family farm because it allows us to give our crops the amount of water it needs at the right time. SC is known for having droughts so irrigation gives us water to help feed and fuel the world.
Jim Ulmer, Pine Grove Planation: Water is absolutely vital in order for farms to be able to irrigate the crops that feed and clothe our nation. If we cannot irrigate crops when they need to have water applied to them, especially in a drought situation, the amount of food and fiber produced is greatly reduced and often at risk. High quality food will be in short supply and become expensive. Fiber crops like cotton will be of lower quality and in smaller amounts and cause the price of blue jeans, t-shirts, underwear, sportswear, and other cotton cloth products to increase greatly in cost to the consumer. The timing of irrigation of crops is vital as well. Stress levels on crops such as corn at critical times as seed germination when the planted seed starts to sprout, tasseling when to corn puts out flowers/silk that need to be fertilized by the pollen from the tassels in order to produce each kennel of corn, and during the period of the ear of corn filling out the kernels of corn. The hay lift of the late 1980’s was a result of the need for water during a drought. Farmers and ranchers must have adequate water in order to produce crops and livestock in order to stay in business and feed and clothe our children in the future.
Ronnie Myers, Myers Farms: Our primary concern is feeding cows. At Myers Farms, because of adding a small amount of irrigation, we are assured that we will always be able to feed nearly 1000 dairy cows and calves around our farm as well as elsewhere in the state. If it wasn’t for this we can never guarantee quality and quantity enough to be able to do this. If has become imperative for ours as well as other dairy farms we feed to have this irrigation.
Roy Lindsey, Leaning Tree Farm: Irrigation makes the difference between profit and loss on my farm. Inputs have gone so high in price that risk has to be controlled. Irrigation makes the difference. Water management is an important part of my operation.
Jim Russell, Russell Farms: We don’t irrigate a large part of our farm, but we do believe there are enough standards and safeguards in place to safely regulate farm water use. There are lots of hoops to jump through not only to pull water out of the ground but also to properly drain the acres.
Jeffrey Axson, Seven Oaks Farm: Water is the lifeblood of agriculture! Over half of my corn, cotton and peanut acres are irrigated. And without the ability to provide adequate water to my crops when they need it, I could be out of business in just one year. But irrigation is not cheap and farmers know that water is not limitless. Therefore we are some of the world’s greatest conservationist, always looking for the most effecient way to use this valuable resource.
You can learn more about water use on our blog.
The bottom line is that these special interests want to inject politics and lawsuits to block farmers from irrigating the crops that feed us. Currently, farmers use sound science and work with regulatory agencies to water their crops. We must stop legislators from imposing politics on farmers.