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ALL DRIED UP

Patricia Bryant and her grandson, Jacob Bryant, 3, look at dried-up tomato plants at Bryant's Peaches & Produce in Filbert on Friday. The drought has wiped out all of Bryant's locally grown produce this summer.
Patricia Bryant and her grandson, Jacob Bryant, 3, look at dried-up tomato plants at Bryant's Peaches & Produce in Filbert on Friday. The drought has wiped out all of Bryant's locally grown produce this summer.

It's been a hot summer sitting in a produce stand without air conditioning, but Dori Sanders doesn't worry about herself. She's thinking about the crops withering in her fields.

Sanders has been growing produce in Filbert between Clover and York all her life, but she has never seen a year like this. A late freeze killed off her peach crop, and now a drought is devastating produce production.

"This is, in my opinion, the worst we have ever had since I can remember," she said.

It's normal to have hot, dry spells, but not to this extent, she said.

York County has been experiencing a heat wave since early August. There have been seven days over 100 degrees as of Aug. 23, according to the National Weather Service. August may become the driest August on record, according to data. Only .01 inches of rain has fallen since Aug. 1, compared to the record low of .61 inches in 1972. Aside from isolated showers, meteorologists don't see much rain in the future.

The impact has meant water restrictions in urban areas while dairy and cattle farmers are beginning to worry about hay production for feed. Streams that farmers use to water cattle and wells for irrigation systems are starting to run low and some predict conditions could get as bad as the drought in 1986 when hay was brought in from other states.

"It's the heat that was coupled with the drought this year that made it such a serious problem," Sanders said. "So many days, no rain and day after day over 100 degrees."

Sanders and her brother, Orestus Sanders, watered some tomato plants, but they didn't have an irrigation system set up for the rest of their produce.

"If you ain't got any water, you have nothing this year," Orestus Sanders said.

Most of the 25 acres of produce the Sanders planted died because of the heat.

"We had lots of cantaloupe," Dori Sanders said. "They burned to a crisp."

The results can be seen at the family's roadside stand. Watermelon and cantaloupe bear the stickers of another farm, where they had to buy it from.

'Never seen heat like this'

The effects of the drought have been widespread.

"You know it's a dry year when you can't even grow Bermuda grass," said Andy Rollins, fruit and vegetable specialist with the Clemson Extension Office.

While commercial growers are able to use irrigation systems, smaller farms are feeling the brunt, he said. Many don't have irrigation systems.

If the extreme heat and dry weather continue, even commercial growers with irrigation systems will see their water source drying up.

"If a creek runs dry where they're drawing water from, it can have serious effects," Rollins said.

The drought comes as a blow to the family-run produce stands in the area whose sales were already down because of the peach crop being destroyed by an early frost, said Jimmy Bryant, who runs Bryant's peaches. Now, the drought has left little else to sell.

Bryant said he planted about 8 acres of produce, but the majority has died.

"They just started wilting down," he said. "I've never seen the heat like this."

Cattle farmers also are being hit hard by the heat.

"It's in the range of being more than serious now," said Joe Guthrie, livestock manager with the Clemson Extension Office in York. "Pastures are just completely drying up."

A lot of the grass probably will die because of the drought, and that will mean grass will need to be replanted this fall.

"A lot of people use creeks or streams to water out of, and those are even beginning to dry up," Guthrie said. "Some people are even having to haul water."

The last time cattle farmers saw conditions like this was in 1986, Guthrie said. That year, hay had to be brought in from as far away as Canada to meet the need.

This year could be as bad, Guthrie said.

"It's very, very close to being there now, if it's not there already," he said. "I have five to 10 people call me a day wanting me to help them locate hay."

It will take a lot of rain to get things back to where they should be, Guthrie said.

Milk production down

The Adkins family, which raises about 40 dairy cows in York, have seen the effects of the drought as well. Milk production is about 40 percent below the typical 50 to 55 gallons a day, she said.

Animals are stressed by the heat, and there is little pasture for food, Adkins said. The family has fed cows hay all summer and is using hay planned for the winter. Fields they planted for feed have only produced about a third of what they should have.

"It's getting bad," Adkins said.

A few of the family's chickens and a goat have died because of the extreme temperatures, Adkins said. She now has an industrial fan set up outside to blow some air for her cows.

"If you push an animal in the heat, they can get stressed, and they will fall over dead," she said.

The Adkins have a well that supplies water for the farm and the animals. They've taken steps to ensure it doesn't go dry.

"We take precautions of making sure all spigots are cut off, and we have float systems on our water troughs to keep them from overflowing and wasting water," Adkins said.

Farmers say there's little hope of recouping loses now. Many crops are already dead, and even if it rained right away, there is little chance of harvesting much produce. There is nothing to do now but wait and hope for a better year next year, they say.

"It's pretty much expected that everything won't go perfectly," said Dori Sanders. "You just have to deal with it. It's just the farmer's plight."

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