Fay rain improves S.C. agriculture

Farmers in the drought-stricken Southeast halfheartedly celebrated downpours from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay last week, when several inches of rain took the edge off a potentially disastrous season.

Some crops like corn and soybeans that are planted early were already beyond help. But the rain did help crops planted later like tobacco, cotton, peanuts and hay, which are heading toward harvest, agriculture experts said.

“These rains have improved things to a mediocre year. Otherwise it was probably going to be a horrible year,” said S.C. Agriculture Department marketing specialist Brad Boozer.

People who monitor the drought are still trying to assess the benefit from several inches of rain that fell in northern Georgia, Alabama and the western Carolinas.

It was far too soon Monday to say what effect the downpours from Hurricane Gustav would have farther west in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.

The storm could bring more rain to recharge the moisture in the soil, but its high winds threatened peach orchards, said Perry Mobley, a commodities director for the Alabama Farmers Federation.

And the Atlantic coast might wind up with more rain than it needs later this week if Hurricane Hanna, which formed Monday off the Bahamas, works its way north as projected.

But after Fay, farm ponds refilled, lakes and rivers rose and the thirsty ground soaked up the downpour, the first time in at least two years that a decaying tropical storm has drenched the region's interior.

On the U.S. Drought Monitor map of the Southeast, the area under the most severe classification, exceptional drought, shrank by more than three-quarters in just a week to remain in only about six counties in northern South Carolina.

The amount of land under the three most serious classes of drought combined fell from 42 percent to 27 percent.

“Something like this jump-starts us into recovery. But if it doesn't rain for the next month, it will go back to the same story,” S.C. climatologist Hope Mizzell said.