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TONY MELTON; When it rains it pours

TONY MELTON; When it rains it pours

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One of my old preacher’s favorite sayings was “A ditch/rut is a grave with the ends knocked out.” As I ride around the Pee Dee I feel like I have really failed in educating farmers about ditches and draining fields. The bottom line is “If you have a hole in a vegetable field without the ends knocked out to make a good ditch — it is a grave for your vegetable crops.”

In South Carolina it is like the old Morton salt commercial: “When it Rains it Pours.” South Carolina has become a “State of Extremes” — either flood or drought. Without good drainage vegetables drown and without irrigation they fail, don’t yield, and dry up. We are on what we call “The flat land” in the Pee Dee – drainage just doesn’t happen – we must work for it. We must think, plan, and implement “drainage.” A few hours of standing water and vegetables are dead without the possibility of resurrection. I have been preaching drainage for years so sometimes to drive the point home I ask farmers if they are going to stock those ponds in their fields or buy tractor-boats.

The first drainage option most farmers implement is drain tiles in the holes in the fields. Most of the time this works for row crops since they can take a day or two of standing water. However, most of the time with vegetables that can only withstand a few hours of standing water the crop drowns anyway.

The next drainage option most farmers implement is ditches around the edges of the field. As I ride around the Pee Dee it breaks my heart to see that over 95 percent of the ditches are totally useless. They are around the edges of the fields, the soil from the ditches are piled on the sides, or the ditches have shoulders like a football player’s shoulder pads which make these ditches useless. Water must flow all the way to the ditches, so the fields are drained quickly. It is true that soil does sometimes wash into ditches with low shoulders and ditches may get in your way, but like one farmer told mem “it is better to clean out and plant around ditches than to replant drowned crops and have them drown again.” This same farmer farms one of the wettest farms I know of, but by properly using ditches and drain tiles he saved his crop from the storm-of-the-century and Hurricane Matthew.

Finally, smart farmers or farmers who have learned the hard way use a combination of properly installed drain tiles and ditches and think the situation out to get the drainage needed.

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To quote one of my best vegetable farmers, “You won’t be in the vegetable busy long if you don’t know how to throw the ugly stuff away.” Like I always say, “An ugly county agent is OK, but ugly fruits and vegetables won’t flush.”

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