DROUGHT HITS ALABAMA FARMERS
MONTGOMERY After two years of record-low commodity prices and weather-related disasters, many Alabama farmers, particularly in the southern part of the state, are being challenged again this year with extreme dry conditions that threaten their crops and livestock, says Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby.
Newby, a cotton farmer from Athens, says south Alabama seems to be hardest hit but that he and his neighbors in the north are needing rain now after an oversupply of rainfall earlier.
In the lower part of the state, Dale County Farmers Federation President Jerry Byrd said, "A lot of people are holding up on planting peanuts because the ground is so hard. But the cattle situation is the toughest thing we're facing right now. There's nothing for them to eat; the pastures are dry; and we've already missed one-to-two hay cuttings."
Geneva County farmer Charles Turner, who serves on the Federation's state board said, "People are selling their cattle early because there is no grass. We have some cattle we were planning to keep until at least June 1, but we've run out of feed and are going to have to let them go." Turner also said he has been irrigating his fields just so he can plant his peanuts, but he's worried the water in his ponds won't last through the summer.
The Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that soil moisture is short to very short in 50 percent of the state with south Alabama being the hardest hit. The current drought conditions are even more serious due to below-normal rainfall for much of south Alabama in 1999. The Montgomery area, for example, ended the year nearly 12 inches below normal. So far this year, the National Weather Service says Montgomery has received less than half its normal 22 inches of rainfall. Many other areas of south Alabama report similar statistics.
According to the Statistics Service, rainfall since March 29 has been 24 percent above normal in Huntsville, 22 percent above normal in Gadsden, 1 percent below normal in Tuscaloosa, 68 percent below normal in Montgomery, 18 percent below normal in Mobile and 55 percent below normal in Dothan.
Lee County Farmers Federation President Tom Ingram says he received a total of only 1.5 inches of rain in April and the last precipitation on his farm was April 23. Cotton that should be 8-10 inches tall has barely cracked through the surface on his farm.
Ben Bowden, Russell County Farmers Federation president, reports an extremely poor stand of cotton due to the drought. He said there will be one plant six inches high and a very long skip before you see the next one. Bowden said he has a good stand of cotton on about one-third of his acreage.
Even north Alabama farmers are beginning to need rain after having above-normal precipitation early in the year. "We got enough rain for our cotton planted in April," said Madison County farmer Homer Tate, "but we have not had any rain in May. We're needing it now."
"The good news is that many farmers even in south Alabama say it's still not too late for rain to save their crop," Newby said. "The bad news is the latest forecast by the National Weather Service doesn't look promising."