Farmers focus on recovery following tornado outbreaks
Storms that ripped Alabama apart on April 27 are bringing together farmers across the state in a way that might surprise some residents.
|Cullman County Farmers Federation President Kenneth Neal, second from left, huddled beneath the stairs in his basement and survived the killer tornado that ripped through his community last week despite losing his entire home and most of his belongings. From left are Alfa Executive Vice President of Marketing Herman Watts, Neal, Area Organization Director Matthew Durdin and Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan.|
But Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan, although shocked at the amount of devastation the storms caused, wasn't surprised at how farmers quickly turned their focus to helping neighbors and caring for their animals.
"As I toured many of the areas, it is amazing that anyone or anything could survive," Pinyan said. "But farmers like Cullman County Federation President Kenneth Neal whose home was completely destroyed around him by a tornado, immediately began trying to help others."
Neal, who lives near the Trimble Community in western Cullman County, huddled beneath the stairwell in his basement as the storm flattened his home on top of him.
"The floor of the house fell through the basement, and I happened to be in the only spot that I could have possibly survived in," said Neal, who was still shaken a week after the event. "I am here to tell anyone who will listen: There is a God and there are guardian angels. My guardian angel was definitely watching over me and protecting me that day.
"Even with all of this around me, I didn't have a scratch or a bruise," said the 77-year-old Neal.
The former poultry farmer had two vacant chicken houses used for storage behind his home that were flattened. His 2,000-square-foot brick home was a pile of rubble.
Marshall County Farmers Federation Board Member Dan Smalley who lives near Guntersville, operates one of the largest poultry farms in the state. Ten of his 15 houses were damaged.
A day later, many of the chicks that had been placed in the houses the day before the storm, were walking dazed among the scraps of tin. The storm that hit Smalley's farm happened early that morning.
"Once I knew my family was okay, I tried to get to the farm," Smalley said. "The roads were blocked, the phones wouldn't work and I was afraid that my workers were injured or worse. When I was finally able to get there, I was relieved to find out all of them were safe."
Federation members from throughout Alabama as well as Farm Bureau members from other states brought equipment and helped clear debris, build fences and cook food.
Marion County Board Member Warren Williford remembers huddling with his family in the basement of his daughter's and son-in-law's home a few miles from downtown Hackleburg when an EF5 tornado with winds topping 200 miles per hour roared through.
"When it was over and we drove into town it was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," Williford said, still tearful as he recalled the events from the previous week. "There is so much destruction; so much loss. I can't describe it."
With only 1,500 residents, it's hard to find anyone in the town who wasn't affected. Entire neighborhoods were flattened, the school was heavily damaged and the downtown area was in shambles.
Williford owns Wiginton Paper Products, which was destroyed in the storm. But even as he sifted through the rubble Wednesday afternoon, he was counting his blessings.
"My family was spared and I have a place to go home to," he said. "There are people here who have nothing left. They've lost loved ones, their home and their business. But the people of Hackleburg are strong. I think our town will come back and will be stronger than ever."
Alfa responds quickly to tornado claims
Alfa Insurance mobilized claims adjusters, deployed mobile response units and extended office hours to better serve policyholders impacted by last week's deadly tornadoes.
|Alfa employees deliver a check to a Tuscaloosa homeowner Sunday whose home was destroyed in the April 27 tornado outbreak. From left are Senior Vice President of Claims Jerry Johnson, Assistant to the President Al Scott, Dalton "Buddy" Gaddis and Claims Adjuster Terry Barnes.|
Alfa President Jerry Newby said the company's disaster planning and network of local service centers has allowed Alfa to respond quickly to claims.
"Alfa is prepared to deliver on our company's promise to be there when our policyholders need us most," Newby said. "Our dedicated employees, strong financial base and advance planning make Alfa uniquely prepared to respond quickly and compassionately."
The morning after twisters gashed the Alabama landscape, Alfa began sending additional adjusters into the hardest hit areas. By Saturday, more than 100 adjusters were in the storm-ravaged towns, working alongside hundreds of agents, CSRs and district office employees.
The company also deployed its two 38-foot Mobile Response Units and sent gasoline, generators and other supplies to service centers in north Alabama. To expedite claims, CSRs in offices that lost computer connection to the home office developed a "buddy system" with coworkers in south Alabama, who took claims information over the phone and entered it into the system. At the home office, Alfa's call center and website allowed policyholders to file claims 24 hours a day.
Alfa Senior Vice President of Claims Jerry Johnson said the company is prioritizing claims to serve the most urgent needs first and has implemented its catastrophe plan to ensure claims are handled as quickly as possible.
"We are committed to using every available resource to help our policyholders recover from these storms," Johnson said.
Alfa is utilizing advertising on television, radio, billboards and aerial banners as well as in newspapers to make sure policyholders know how to file a claim. As of Wednesday afternoon, the company had received about 15,000 claims.
To report a claim, contact a local Alfa service center, call 1-800-964-2532 or visit the website www.AlfaIns.com
USDA disaster assistance available for qualified farmers
USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Daniel Robinson reminds crop and livestock producers throughout Alabama that have recently experienced severe damage from tornadoes that FSA programs may be available to assist with recovery.
"Severe weather this spring is making things very difficult for many ranchers and farmers. Learning about our FSA disaster assistance programs is an important first step for producers in the recovery process," said Robinson.
FSA administers several important programs that help producers recover from disaster damage and livestock deaths. Among the key programs available to address impacts from disasters are:
Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)--provides funding for farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by a natural disaster (check with local FSA Office for sign-up periods, which are set by county FSA committees).
Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP)--provides assistance to livestock producers for livestock deaths from a natural disaster event (must file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days of the loss event or of when the loss of livestock was apparent to the participant).
Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP)-- provides emergency relief to producers of livestock, honey bees, and farm-raised fish, and covers losses not adequately covered by any other disaster program (must file notice of loss within the earlier of 30 calendar days of when the loss is apparent to the participant, or 30 calendar days after the end of the calendar year in which the loss occurred).
Tree Assistance Program (TAP)--provides assistance to orchardists and nursery tree growers for losses due to a natural disaster (must file notice of loss within 90 calendar days from the date of the disaster event or the date when the loss of trees, bushes or vines is apparent).
Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)--provides assistance to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster (check with local FSA Office for sign-up periods, which are set by county FSA committees).
Noninsured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)--provides assistance to eligible producers affected by a natural disaster, covering noninsurable crop losses and prevented planting (must file notice of loss within 15 calendar days of date of loss or of the date damage to the crop or loss of production becomes apparent to the participant).
Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program--provides assistance for crop production and/or quality losses due to a natural disaster.
Fact sheets for all of these programs can be found online at www.fsa.usda.gov; click on Newsroom, then Fact Sheets. You may also visit your local Farm Service Agency Office for more information regarding these programs.
"We encourage all who have suffered a disaster due to the recent severe weather conditions to read the fact sheets and visit their local FSA county office so they can get a quick start in the recovery process," added Robinson.
David Cole named director of agricultural legislation
Alabama Farmers Federation Area Organization Director David Cole, 31, has been named director of agricultural legislation for the state's largest farm organization.
Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Federation's Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department, said Cole will strengthen the Federation's voice at the Statehouse.
"David will bring enthusiasm to this position that will serve the Alabama Farmers Federation well -- in the county federations and in the halls of the Alabama Legislature," Hardin said. "He has a desire to grow and learn the legislative issues important to our members to an even greater depth, and to help develop and implement the policies of our organization.
"David's positive outlook and zeal for what's best for the Federation's members, and all of Alabama's farmers are an encouragement to me," Hardin added.
A native of Akron, Ala., in Hale County, Cole earned a bachelor of science degree in landscape horticulture from Auburn University in 2004. He owned and operated a landscape design business before joining the Federation staff in 2006. As the Area 7 organization director, Cole worked with Barbour, Bullock, Crenshaw, Macon, Pike and Russell counties. He credits the farmers in those counties for helping prepare him for his new duties.
"It has been a blessing to serve as Area Organization Director for Area 7 for the past four years. The membership and county board members that I have had the opportunity to work with have been an integral part in teaching me the principles on which this organization was founded," Cole said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for the farmers of this state, and I am looking forward to serving them in this new capacity."
Cole added that he is humbled and excited to be selected for this new position.
"I am looking forward to this new endeavor with a lot of enthusiasm and anticipation. I believe the position in which I have been selected is crucial in protecting and enhancing agriculture and the values of our members," he said. "I feel that it is imperative that I work expeditiously in building a solid relationship with the members of the Legislature on behalf of the Alabama Farmers Federation."
Cole serves on the Leadership Advisory Board of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Advisory Board of the Pike Agriscience Academy. He and wife Lauren are active members of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery.
Alabama Soybean Producers' checkoff sponsors TV show
The Alabama Soybean Producers, a division of Alabama Farmers Federation, is partnering with the Alabama Farmers Cooperative by sponsoring a portion of AFC's weekly television show Time Well Spent, hosted by Jim Allen and Grace Smith.
The many uses of soybeans will be highlighted during the Soybean Producers' segment of the show and is being paid for with producer checkoff funds. The shows are filmed and produced by Federation Broadcast Relations Director Kevin Worthington.
Time Well Spent is broadcast on RFD-TV each Friday at 9 p.m. and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. In addition to promoting the many uses of soybeans, the show will feature segments on Alabama producers who last year grew soybeans on 350,000 acres in the state.
|Dan Smalley of Marshall County was among hundreds of poultry producers whose farms were damaged by the tornados that ripped through the state last week. Ten of his 15 poultry houses were damaged.|
Marion County Mourns
|Marion County Farmers Federation Board Member Warren Williford of Hackleburg and Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan stand in front of Williford's business, which was destroyed by the EF5 tornado that struck the area on the afternoon of April 27. Williford said he feels fortunate that his family was safe and his home was spared, but many in his area were not as fortunate. More than 30 people were killed by the storm in Marion County, several are still missing and many are homeless.|
Senate proposes constitutional amendment for Forever Wild
The Alabama Senate approved a plan Thursday night that provides for a constitutional amendment in 2012 to allow voters to decide if they want to continue Forever Wild.
The House earlier passed a bill to reauthorize Forever Wild for 20 more years without a vote of the people. The Senate's bill calling for a constitutional amendment, will now be considered by the House.
The Senate adjourned Wednesday following a filibuster led by Sens. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville; Jimmy Holley, R-Elba; Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville; Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill; and Tom Whatley, R-Auburn. They challenged early reauthorization based on concerns that the program could spend up to $300 million in public funds to purchase land when the state is facing serious financial challenges.
In other business, the Senate passed HB 56, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, that targets illegal immigration. Language in the House bill was changed to be identical to that of SB 256 sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, which doesn't require electronic verification for farm workers.
The Senate also passed the Education Trust Fund budget Tuesday. The budget now goes to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House version.
Meanwhile, Gov. Robert Bentley signed a bill that establishes a license plate category for mini-trucks and exempts such vehicles from certain title requirements. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, and Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom. The governor also signed a resolution, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, establishing a Constitutional Revision Commission to draft new versions of the 18 articles and send them to voters a few at a time. The commission is prohibited from recommending changes to state taxes.
In committee meetings, the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would allow county commissions to adopt a uniform notice requirement for timber harvesters. SB 376 is sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn. The companion, HB 487, is sponsored by Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City. Tuggle's bill was carried over in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee.
The Senate Ag Committee also passed HB 486 by Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, which would add Montgomery city and county officials to the board that oversees Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery and authorize the board to issue bonds for the upkeep and renovation of the facility. Funding for the complex was eliminated in the Senate-approved general fund budget.
The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee this week passed a bill to limit liability of landowners who lease property for hunting and fishing. HB 551 is sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville. The companion bill, SB 84 by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, awaits a final vote in the House.
The Legislature will be in recess until May 24 to hold public hearings and meetings on redistricting state school board districts and congressional districts.
Public hearings on redistricting will be: May 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville; May 10 at 12 noon at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Complex in Birmingham; May 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Tillman's Corner Community Center in Mobile; May 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Statehouse Joint Briefing Room in Montgomery; and May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at St. James Hotel in Selma. The Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment will meet May 18 at 10 a.m. in the Statehouse Joint Briefing Room to adopt redistricting plans, and a final public hearing on the plans will follow at 2 p.m. The committee will then meet May 19 at 10 a.m. in the same room to adopt the final version of the plans for introduction to the full Legislature.
State ag leaders meet with USDA Secretary following storm
As Alabama began to dig out from deadly tornadoes that ripped through the Southeast last week, the state's agricultural leaders met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about programs to help farmers whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by the storms.
|Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, right, meets with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, left and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan during a visit to tornado-ravaged Pratt City, April 30.|
Vilsack joined Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills on a tour of tornado-ravaged Pratt City near Birmingham Sunday.
The former Iowa governor outlined a number of programs that are available to assist farmers with debris removal, fence repair and livestock and crop losses. He also advised state officials about the procedures they must follow to qualify for federal aid.
"Right now, I want to make sure I get the folks here connected -- to make sure we get things done," Vilsack said.
He also reassured state agriculture leaders, "If there's a stumbling block, if there's a hitch -- something that's not getting done -- you have my number."
Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan gave the USDA chief an overview of the agricultural damage in Alabama. In addition to hundreds of poultry houses that were destroyed or damaged by tornadoes, farmers also have been impacted by miles of downed fence, thousands of acres of flattened forests and tons of debris that littered their fields. Farmers in north Alabama also have burned hundreds of gallons of fuel to keep generators running during the prolonged power outage.
Alabama farm leaders visited with Vilsack for more than an hour as he and fellow cabinet members toured the northwest Birmingham community. Besides Pinyan, the group included Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan, Alabama Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President Billy Powell, Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Daniel Robinson, USDA Rural Development State Director Ronnie Davis and Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Bill Puckett.
"This is going to be a time when our faith, ingenuity and resolve are going to be tested," said McMillan. "I flew over north Alabama for four and a half hours (Saturday), and we haven't even started talking about the rural devastation. It's going to take a whole lot of resolve and dedication to get through this."
Preliminary damage reports indicate poultry losses were in the millions with about 210 poultry houses destroyed, another 514 damaged and more than 3 million dead birds.
As of Thursday afternoon, 70 cows and 30 horses had been reported dead. Department officials expect these numbers to rise as they learn more about the extent of the destruction.
Members of Alabama's congressional delegation have pledged to do everything possible to help both urban and rural residents. On hand for Vilsack's visit were U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and U.S. Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Birmingham, and Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham.
Sen. Sessions was visibly moved as he visited with residents and volunteers who sifted through the rubble, hoping to find cherished possessions.
"Alabama people are strong," he declared. "These people have the kind of faith and spirit that's inspiring. The character of Alabama people is shining through."
Alabama agricultural leaders who met with Vilsack are working to assess farm losses, draft funding requests and identify other sources of assistance.
Meanwhile, Vilsack pledged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would work with Alabama farmers to recover from these storms. Farmers may visit local FSA office for disaster program information. For animal mortality information, call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries EOC at (334) 240-7278.
Clay County Farmers Help
|Following the recent storms, Clay County Farmers Federation Board Members volunteered with members of the Lineville Baptist Church to work in the Fairview Community of Cullman County to help remove debris and do minor repairs to structures. Members of the Women's Leadership Committee also assisted with the cleanup. From left are board members Brad Stewart, W. N. McCollum, Area Organization Director David Farnsworth, County President Lamar Dewberry and board member Larry Upchurch.|