By Bob Montgomery

Soaring heat and lack of rainfall has devastated crops in the Upstate, and South Carolina farm officials plan to ask the federal government for emergency farm aid.

"Corn is a disaster," said Wesley Harris, farm loan chief of the State Farm Service Agency. "It's too late for there to be a recovery."

Harris said many farmers have lost their summer hay crop and have had to dip into their winter reserves, leaving them nothing for their livestock this coming winter. "These farmers have fought five years. Whether they can continue, I don't know. It's been a bleak picture."

Harris said the state agency is asking the U.S. department of Agriculture for disaster aid to cover this year's losses, estimated to be millions of dollars.

This past March, the USDA approved low-interest emergency loans for farmers who suffered losses in 2001. Some $48 million was loaned last year, and so far this year $58 million has been loaned, Harris said.

Gov. Jim Hodges, who could restrict water use in hard-hit areas sometime this coming week, has asked Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to amend the Small Busines Administration language to assist small businesses affected by the long dry spell, the longest drought in 50 years. The drought is entering its fifth year.

Kerry is a member of the Senate small business committee.

Under current language, the agency is not authorized to help small businesses "because a drought is not defined as a sudden occurrence -- nonetheless, a drought is an ongoing natural disaster that is causing great economic damage to these small business owners," Hodges wrote.

"Short of finding a way to control the weather, this may be our only option to help their dire situation."

Harris said non-irrigated fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and squash, peaked early and did not stay fresh as long as normal. The peach crop, mostly irrigated, fared well, and the verdict is still out for soybeans and cotton, he said.

Pelzer dairy farmer Tom Trantham said Friday the lack of hay is as bad as it was in 1986, when bales were airlifted to the state from the Midwest, where hay was plentiful then. But this year, the drought has been severe nationwide, and farmers may have to buy alternative manufactured grain mixtures, he said.

"I've lost 25 acres of high-quality hay, and 10 more on another field," Trantham said. "It doesn't matter if it rains now until doomsday, it's already dead."

Trantham said the higher the cost of feed, the more he must charge for milk that he sells to wholesalers. The result could be higher supermarket prices.

He said low-interest loans help in the short term, but many of the state's estimated 100 dairy farmers could suffer major losses.

"If you're bleeding, a Band-Aid helps," Trantham said. "But there's no way they can come in here and take care of my total loss."

Robert Freeman, a produce delivery driver for Mauldin Open Air Market on Butler Road, said he has seen prices rise since last year from 89 cents for squash and cucumbers to 99 cents a pound; 89 cents for okra to $1.49 a pound; and 49 cents to 79 cents a pound for small tomatoes.

Only corn for human consumption that was irrigated did well this year, he said. "If it hadn't been for irrigation, there would be no corn."

Freeman said it has been harder to get local produce this summer, and that he must go to the state capital, where produce from other states and countries is delivered.

All dried up: Greenville County farmer Tom trantham examines grass in an unirrigated part of a pasture of his McKelvey Road farm Friday, while a sprinkler rns in an irrigated part of the pasture in the background.