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Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686

MONTGOMERY "Devastating."

That was the word used by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Terry Everett following an aerial tour of drought-stricken southeast Alabama last weekend.

The congressmen, accompanied by Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby and USDA Undersecretary Tom Grau, flew over several Wiregrass counties in a National Guard helicopter Saturday. The group also toured farms in Coffee and Geneva counties to get a close up view of the the disaster.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman declared the state a disaster area June 23, making Alabama farmers eligible for low-interest rate loans and other assistance programs.

"There are some farms down in this area that aren't going to make a crop at all this year," Newby said. "The recent rains have helped some, but even those who will make a crop are going to have a substantial loss."

Many areas of the Southeast are as much as 15 inches below normal rainfall for the year.

Both Sessions and Everett pledged to find ways to help farmers who need it, adding that low-interest loans won't be enough.

"I'm not going to sit by and watch our farm productivity, which is really a matter of national security, fail because of several bad crop years," Sessions said. He said big improvements have been made to the federal crop insurance plan, but added that other permanent measures are needed. "Farmers can't survive on crop insurance and disaster aid," Everett said. "We have a water problem, and in my opinion it's going to continue until we develop a plan to address it."

Everett said developing watersheds in the area could be a viable solution to many of the problems, including those faced by residential water systems which have wells that have dried up.

Everett said he agrees with Sessions that agriculture is a national security issue, adding that he feels most of Congress recognizes that.

"We can't depend on other countries to feed and clothe us," Everett said. "Europe has already tried that and it didn't work."

Grau, who was scheduled to meet with Glickman earlier this week to report his view of the drought in Alabama, said he is doubtful that many of the farms he saw will be able to produce a crop this year. He said he will be working to get that acreage released so that farmers can collect insurance in time to plant another crop this summer or fall.

USDA also is allowing livestock grazing on some Conservation Reserve Program land in areas experiencing serious drought conditions. Emergency haying has not been authorized at this time.

Glickman's disaster declaration also covered 41 of Florida's 67 counties, 17 of Nebraska's 93 counties and 27 of New Mexico's 33 counties. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

Interested farmers may contact their local FSA offices for further information. Information is available on the web at : www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/disaster/assistance1.htm.

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