With 75% Crop Loss During October's Floods, Beaufort Farmer Hopes for Good Spring Yield
The West family has been growing fruits and vegetables in Beaufort for more than 100 years. Fifth generation Urbie West says the farm has been through many changes, and tough years, but last fall may have been the hardest.
West and other farmers are just starting to get back in the field for the spring season after a tough fall and winter. The October 2015 floods caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the state’s agriculture industry. But as the land has started to dry out and the sun has come out farmers are starting to get back to planting again.
West is cautiously optimistic about the growing fruits and vegetables on his 45 acre farm.
“This crop is probably a couple weeks ahead of what we have had in the past,” he said.
He attributes the early harvest this season to some of the warm winter weather. A welcome break after one of the wettest winters he remembers. As we drive around the fields of growing broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in his white pick-up truck, he laments the past season.
“We want to make everyone happy,” he said, “We want everyone to reap the rewards of a crop that has been planted, harvested and taken care of.”
A large part of West’s business is through membership. At the beginning of each season people pay a lump sum and then pick up their baskets of fresh produce during the harvest each season. He and his son Ashby have been farming with this business model for seven years. They grew it from a modest 100 members the first year to nearly 700 last year. But, the rains forced West to close down for the last part of the fall season.
“We lost 75 percent of our crop last November [and] December,” he said.
Because of that, many of the members didn’t get all of the fruits and vegetables they paid for. West said some were supportive and understanding.
“We had that other group that we either didn’t hear from or we got nasty letters from,” he said, “And those were really hard on me and my son…and well my whole family.”
Membership is down so far this year. The farm has about half of the members they did last year. That money is important for him to have early in the season.
“It’s been really hard because we count on that membership to help us get those seeds in the ground, to pay labor and other things like that,” he says.
He has poured some of his personal money into the farm to make it through the tough time. But as West said, “farming has no guarantees, sometimes I like to say it’s a roll of the dice.”
With some hard work and a break in the wet weather West has been able to dry out enough of his fields to have some radishes and arugula ready for harvest.
West hopes this season will continue to go smoothly; he just has to find enough people to buy the food.
“We are banking on the local community to by our product,” he said.
On September 15th, the US Department of Agriculture announced that South Carolina farmers would receive more than $35 million in aid for help with the recovery effort from the historic floods of October 2015.