I don’t have to wait until the Eastern Carolina Fair returns to Florence on Oct. 8 for a roller coaster ride in my life. I am holding on tight since this time of year is full of contrasts/changes.
Tomorrow is the beginning of fall, my favorite farming time of year. Supposedly the temperatures should change from excessively hot to cool, but we all know that shorts are sometimes appropriate at Christmas in South Carolina. However, Tuesday, Sept. 24, is my least favorite time of year, my birthday, I will be 62, or just plain old as dirt. Also, fall signals a big change in the world around us, including our farms but the most successful vegetable farms I work with never quit planting, growing, harvesting, and marketing.
If you supply warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, etc., more than six months out of the year you are a four-season farmer. If you are harvesting all types of cool-season vegetables like turnips, mustard, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, and many more at least eight months out of the year you are a four-season farmer. If you are rotating, mixing-in, and harvesting row crops like small grains, soybeans, sorghum, peanuts, and corn to keep something growing all year on the same land you are a four-season farmer.
Cover crops are hot; however, when a farmer asks me “what is the best cover crop,” I always say, “another crop.” Another crop you can harvest and make money on. “Warning: This may interfere with your hunting, fishing, or golfing.” Some of the best farmers I work with keep their land busy making them a profit all year long. However, as we say in McBee “This ain’t cheap, easy, simple, or for the faint of heart.”
First, it costs money to grow any crop so “do not grow it if you can’t sell it at a profit (marketing).” You cannot eat it all. For instance, many farmers have quit growing wheat because of the low price, but there are many other small grains or other row crops like winter peas that may fit your operation.
Searching for markets is not most farmer’s favorite pastime, but like I tell farmers, “Money is spent not made in the growing, Marketing is where the money is made.” Thank goodness, we have markets for processing and fresh market greens in South Carolina to give us another profitable winter rotation crop.
Next, it’s not easy to handle field preparation, planting and harvesting at the same time. With the four-season farmer, it’s not just spring planting and fall harvest. Managing equipment, people, and time is a challenge when multiple operations are running at the same time. Especially if you are growing vegetables or fruits, timing is everything - most times tomorrow is way too late and little things will kill you – but everything is a little thing.
Next, it’s not simple to follow one crop with another mainly because of herbicide rotational restrictions. Some herbicides have long rotational restrictions for certain crops. If you use these products you must know what, when, and where you are rotating to. A simple rotational mistake can end in total loss. Sometimes you must choose not to use certain more effective herbicides and depend on other weed control options to prevent carry-over damage.
Finally, four-season farming may add more things to do on your plate, which may add stress, but in my opinion “It is always better to spread financial risk over many different crops.” For instance, when peaches are killed by frost one farmer I work with depends on strawberries, vegetables, and row crops to carry the load.
If one crop fails, you have other crops to depend on. I hate to end on a sour note but be careful: A report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states is nearly five times when compared with that in the general population.
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