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Drought already affecting S.C. farmers

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Some South Carolina farmers are experiencing “irreversible” crop losses already due to drought conditions in the state, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Some areas received measurable rainfall this week prior to a meeting Thursday of the S.C. Drought Response Committee, but the effects from the lack of rain and excessive heat have caused irreversible damage to some agriculture, an increased threat for wildfires, record demands for water and a significant drop in stream flows, according to a news release from the committee.

The committee upgraded the drought status for all 46 counties statewide after discussing current conditions during a conference call Thursday. Deteriorating conditions during the past 21 days resulted in 35 counties, including Richland and Lexington, being upgraded to moderate drought status.

Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Anderson, Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union, York, Lancaster, Kershaw and Chester counties were upgraded to incipient.

Incipient is the first level of drought, followed by moderate, severe and extreme. 

According to the release, the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service found crop conditions are very poor throughout most of the Pee Dee.

“Field corn is rolled up and scorched, and pasture conditions are very poor,” the release said. “Livestock producers are already feeding hay and are now looking at putting drought-stressed corn into baleage to feed to cattle.”

Recent rainfall has helped the situation, particularly in the Lowcountry.

“We only upgraded one level to moderate drought because of the recent rainfall,” Marion Rizer, Colleton Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Emeritus, said. “Without this rain, it would have been necessary to consider a severe drought declaration for counties in the Lowcountry.”

During May, multiple public water supply systems reported numerous daily water demand records. While the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said there are no reports of water shortages yet, some public water supply systems are encouraging voluntary conservation, said Rob Devlin, DHEC director of water monitoring, assessment and protection.

The state Forestry Commission is encouraging residents to be vigilant of fire danger when burning outdoors. Wildfire activity significantly increased in late May and early June, with the commission responding to more than 312 wildfires across the state that burned almost 2,000 acres.

The committee will reevaluate conditions next week.  

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