Potato farms offers compromise on irrigation plan
The owners of a massive potato farm located in Aiken County are proposing dramatic changes to the farm's initial plans to irrigate its property.
Additional changes that Walther Farms is proposing include:
• Installing a water flow meter at the withdrawal site
• Rather than the 40-foot tree buffer between the river and farm operations that's require by state regulations, Walther Farms is planning a 600- to 3,000-foot buffer.
• Walther Farms plans to increase its conservation easements on its property from 900 acres to about 2,500 acres, Weathers said.
• Walther Farms is looking a little more closely at its crop rotation.
Walther Farms, which owns several thousand acres in the Windsor area, is offering several compromises in effort to address concerns by various environmental organizations across the state, according to S.C. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers.
The billions of gallons of water the farm first requested to pull from the South Edisto River for its operations alarmed area farmers and conservationists.
The situation has sparked a call for a change in the state law, but Walther Farms is said to be taking its own steps to ease the anxiety among those wanting to protect the blackwater river.
The farm received approval from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to withdraw up to 805 million gallons of water monthly from the river in April. Another registration application to pull about another three billion gallons of water annually for the farm was awaiting review.
Weathers said Walther Farms has offered to withdraw its second registration request and plans to irrigate that portion of their land with ground water.
It's also planning to go back to SCDHEC and have its approved surface water registration withdrawal amount slashed by 50 percent.
Weathers said it's also planning to dig wells on that property to use when the river is experiencing a low-flow rate.
According to Weathers, the farm is ramping up its conservation efforts and is considering several other options to lessen the farm's impact on the river.
Weathers asked the Walther family how much all of the adjustments will cost them, and he was told an estimated half million dollars.
“My view is that they have stepped up adequately, or really just above and beyond, in good faith to demonstrate their concerns for the Edisto and surrounding community,” Weathers said. “They just want this behind them. They want to demonstrate they're just as excited about being in South Carolina as we are to live here.”
Friends of the Edisto President Tim Rogers said his organization met with Walther Farms on one occasion in the past week to discuss some of these compromises. He hopes to meet with Walther Farms officials and its council next week to continue discussing the issues at hand.
“I think it (the changes) has the potential to make a great deal of difference,” Rogers said. “I think it's a positive development that we have an opportunity to sit down directly with the Walther family and their council to discuss our concerns and our differences and certainly explore the possibility to reach an agreement that would affect the situation.”
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard.
and has been with the publication since May 2010.
She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article stated that Walther Farms has already withdrawn its second registration. Walther Farms has not done so yet and has only proposed to do so at this time.