March 29, 2010
South Carolina is one of the most rapidly urbanizing States in the Nation. Lee County, on the other hand, is the epitome of the rural South Carolina that is rapidly disappearing. The county, formed from parts of Darlington, Sumter, and Kershaw Counties, has been a major producer of cotton since colonial times. U.S. Senator Ellison Durant Smith (1864-1944), a native of Lee County, was nicknamed "Cotton Ed" because of his support for cotton farmers. Although cotton was the backbone that built the South, planting cotton "fence row to fence row" causes erosion concerns and provides no feed or habitat for wildlife.
One of the most unique family farms, not only in Lee County but in South Carolina as a whole, is the Billy Clyburn family farm. As a result of the Civil War, influenza epidemics, the Great Depression, and failing farm economies, it has been rare for sizeable, contiguous row cropped farms to remain in one family for many generations. The Clyburn family is one such rare jewel. The family originally immigrated from Scotland in the late 1800's. Billy Clyburn is the sixth generation row crop farmer planting as much as 800 acres of cotton as well as other crops. The farm covers a contiguous area six miles wide in two Counties-Lee and Kershaw.
Another unique feature of this farm is that for two generations the farm was managed by women. Clyburn's great-grandmother had married a gentleman from Mississippi. She inherited the farm with the stipulation that she live and farm on the land. And so she did. Clyburn's grandmother farmed the land after her husband died during the influenza outbreak of 1912.
South Carolina generally has small fields. The Clyburn farm has large hundred-plus area fields with one field having more than 500 acres. This one field is larger than most farms in the State.
Cotton farming on large fields comprised of light sandy/clay soil has caused soil and wind erosion problems on the farm. During the early days of CRP, Clyburn enrolled qualifying acres and planted them to monoculture pines. This greatly assisted in reducing farm erosion but did not provide food and habitat for wildlife. In later years, Clyburn offered qualifying land for CRP to be planted to Longleaf Pines. Still, CRP offered no solution for providing wildlife food and habitat in the large relatively flat cotton fields. Then along came the Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds practice. The purpose of this practice is to provide food and cover for Bobwhite Quail in cropland areas. Secondary benefits may include reducing soil erosion from wind and water, increasing soil and water quality, and protecting and enhancing the on-farm ecosystem. The Clyburn farm was the first with contracts approved for Habitat Buffer for Upland Birds and currently have enrolled more than 294 acres into the practice that surround approximately 1,250 acres of cropland.
After farming for more than 40 years, Clyburn plans to retire in the next few years and take advantage of the benefits derived from CRP enrollment. His plans include a hunting plantation and retreat. His daughter Virginia is ready and willing to become the seventh generation to manage this historical family farm.
The odd-shaped field on the right has been approved to install CP-33, Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds. The buffer was designed to square up the field. This once barren wildlife habitat area will now be an ideal habitat for quail. In the background are CRP loblolly pines.
Loblolly pines were planted to prevent wind erosion during one of the first CRP signups. Prior to the tree establishment the highway was often covered in soil from the field.
Generation 6 and 7- Billy with his daughter Virginia
View of large field on Clyburn farm. This field approved for CP-33.