A Toast To The Future: A Series about the Process and History of Farming in Franklin and Southampton
There once was a cult classic, semi-hit, 1980s TV series, called the A-Team. Hannibal, one of the leading characters, with an oversized cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth, would say “ I love it when a plan comes together.” That is a phrase you will not hear from the lips of a single farmer in the Franklin Southampton area, concerning the 2015 crop season.
This fall has been plagued with moisture, high humidity, wet ground and maybe even a little humility. Local producers had to take more of a, MacGyver (another cult classic, semi- hit, 1980s TV series), approach to harvesting the 2015 crop.
This fall harvest season began in almost a textbook fashion. Above average heat and moderate, late summer rainfall progressed cotton, peanuts, and soybeans to very early maturity. Digging of peanuts and defoliation of local cotton fields was well underway by the middle of September.
Area Agriculture was geared up for an early and vigorous, push to get these crops harvested before the inevitable, cold and wet periods of late fall. Then one day it started raining and it didn’t stop for 12 days. There was not a tremendous amount of rainfall but consistent amounts over the nearly, two week period. Most of the area received between 5 and 8 inches of rain. As the tidewater region, relatively close to the coast, hurricanes and nor’easters are weather events that are anticipated and accepted. This was really neither. We dodged the hurricane but had to endure the wrath of a dozen cloudy, misty, rainy days. I don’t think anyone knew the extent of the issues that would incubate, from such a prolonged period without sunshine.
Overall the harvest yields were for the most part respectable. The quality and grades of local crops harvested, post rain, were a different story. Cottonseeds, suspended in a lock of fluffy white lint, stayed moist enough to actually sprout and grow new cotton plants three feet off the ground. Soybeans, depending on maturity and planting date also sprouted inside the pods. The remaining beans may have molded, shriveled, or turned purple.
Yields and price are driving forces behind the profitability of any farm. What a producer can never anticipate is poor quality and damage, discounts that occur only days before harvest. Lack luster commodity prices coupled with extreme quality discounts have made for an extremely humbling harvest for area farmers.
Just like the rainbow after a summer storm, or even a December rain, the agricultural situation will brighten. There are lulls and highs that must be weathered and managed just like the waves of the sea. Agriculture as an industry and its caretakers are a tenacious team. They have weathered far worse years and even lower prices. The ones that love what they do, which is an extremely high percentage, will be chomping at the bit to get 2016 crop planted and anticipating all the bounty that it may produce. If there is a positive to the fall of 2015, it is that all this moisture and warm weather has produced the lushest cover crop I have ever seen. Farmers will certainly notice the benefits, come spring.
An old farmer once told me that you always make a big crop in a leap year. I cannot help but notice that 2016 is just that and 16 also happens to be this farmer’s favorite number. So I, along with every other producer in our rich agricultural area, will be looking forward, not backwards, to what the next season has in store. I have always been told that no two crop years are alike and I am noticing that as an obvious occurrence. Just like MacGyver, we as producers will be ready. We can feed the world with any situation Mother Nature has in store for us. It may take some creativity and a preverbal, Swiss army knife, but our local farmers are up to the challenge and welcome the task.
As we wind down the holiday season with family and friends, pause and take a moment to reflect where your meals come from. The United States is the best-fed nation on the planet. Not only are these meals available and healthy but they are safe and you can count on another one next week and next year. Farmers don’t fight for freedom or justice; they don’t make laws or make Hollywood movies. Farmers grow and produce food and without which, nothing else really matters.
From My Field to Your Home,