Everyone knows that Santa loves “digging in the dirt/soil” — that way he can hoe-hoe-hoe all he wants. What to get a farmer that has everything for Christmas? Of course, prepare to give them time to attend the S.C. Agribiz Expo on Jan. 15 and 16 at the Florence Center.

Farming is truly the gift that keeps on giving to all of us that have the habit of eating: healthy vegetables here, tasty fruits there, and beautiful row crops filling the fields.

The S.C. Agribiz Expo this year is all about alternative crops such as fruits, hemp, forestry, and vegetables. It is an intensive, two-day event to help you guide your farm through the maze of alternative crops. However, we always start with the basics such as soil and when it relates to farming, it is soil — not dirt.

Dirt is what my mama used to whip my tail for, for getting on my school or Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. However, soil is a very complex substrate for growing plants, and “a good soil is the foundation of a productive/profitable farm.” Different crops prefer different soils, and those soils must be managed differently for different alternative crops.

My high school ag teacher, Mr. Earle, and numerous professors at Clemson spent many hours teaching their students the science of soils. Believe me, the information could fill numerous textbooks. I’ve forgotten much of it, fortunately, since it would probably put you into a deep coma if I went on too long about it.

Since most people in the Pee Dee are not soil scientists, we commonly refer to the quality of a soil by describing it as good, fair, poor, or terrible for growing a certain crop. For instance, I grew up with peaches in McBee, so I know that a good peach soil is well-drained, sandy, has a pH of 6.5, is free of nematodes, and is situated on a hillside. However, since we grew very little tobacco in McBee, when I moved to the Florence area I had to do what my daddy called “sit, shut up and listen” until I learned what makes a good tobacco soil. Most of the time it takes many years of production experience to properly qualify a soil in this manner.

You can get a jump-start on that process by attending the S.C. Agribiz Expo, which is an excellent way of learning the basics of soils, fertility and plant characteristics so you can determine what makes a good, fair, poor, or terrible soil for growing certain alternative crops.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal-opportunity employer.

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