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September 21, 2004   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
September 21, 2004

From left Baldwin County Farmers Federation President David Bitto, USDA Farm Service Agency State Director Danny Crawford, Congressman Jo Bonner, Congressman Mike Rogers and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby discuss damage to the state's crops during a tour Monday. The tour included stops in Talladega, Baldwin and Butler counties.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Most Alabama farmers were prepared for Hurricane Ivan. What they may not have been prepared for was the extent of damage the storm left behind.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby, along with two members of the state's congressional delegation and USDA Farm Service Agency State Director Danny Crawford, toured storm-damaged farms in Talladega, Baldwin and Butler counties on Monday.

"We saw corn and soybeans on the ground and a lot of timber snapped off," Newby said following the tour. "We saw a tremendous amount of cotton that was open and had been blown to the ground. What wasn't open was so heavy it blew down. Hopefully, some of it will stand up and can be harvested, but only time will tell. Our state's farmers lost a lot of pecan trees and timber. There also was a lot of erosion in fields where farmers had planted fall crops."

Most of the state's forestland is owned by individuals. Many of the trees that were valuable as lumber were damaged to the point that they may only be good for pulpwood -- greatly reducing the income those landowners may have received for their trees.

Congressmen Terry Everett, Jo Bonner and Mike Rogers all serve on the House Agriculture Committee. Bonner, Rogers and Everett's District Director Thomas Paramore toured portions of the state with Newby and other farmers Monday. The congressmen pledged to do all they could to provide help to Alabama farmers.

"We're going to look at the programs we already have and see how they can be used in this disaster," Rogers said. "We also may need to fashion some new remedies to help our farmers." Bonner and Rogers said much of the focus following the storm was on residential property. Both said they were surprised at the damage suffered by Alabama farmers.

"You can see that there isn't any cotton left in this field to gather," Bonner said during one tour stop.

Hurricane Frances caused some minor damage earlier this month, but most farmers were expecting a good crop of cotton, peanuts and soybeans. Many of them already were gathering a record corn crop.

Alabama's 200,000 acres of peanuts may have suffered the least. Most farmers said if they can get several days of dry weather, they still might harvest a decent peanut crop. But early reports indicate the state's 600,000 acres of cotton may have been the hardest hit of all row crops.

"Our crop looks to be a total loss," said Baldwin County Farmers Federation President David Bitto. "We really thought this was going to be our best year ever for cotton. In some fields we expected to pick two bales to the acre. Hurricane Ivan blew all that away."

Alabama's greenhouse and nursery business, much of it located in Baldwin and Mobile counties, also was hard hit by the storm. Estimated losses are still being calculated, but it will be several million dollars, according to producers in the area. Minimum damage was reported to the state's billion-dollar poultry industry but more detailed assessments are being conducted.

Twelve Alabama counties have been declared a disaster area and farmers in those areas are qualified for low-interest rate loans. The counties include Washington, Mobile, Baldwin, Clarke, Monroe, Conecuh, Escambia, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Coffee and Geneva. The eight Alabama counties contiguous to those counties also qualify for disaster assistance.

Newby has encouraged Gov. Bob Riley to seek federal disaster assistance from Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and President Bush for farmers who suffered damage from Hurricane Ivan. Such a declaration would trigger further crop assessments and would ensure that all counties would be eligible for emergency loans and other types of assistance. The Federation also is working with other agencies to provide information and relief to farmers as soon as possible. The Farm Service Agency is preparing to send extra workers to the hardest hit areas of the state to help with storm damage assessments. Crawford encouraged farmers to contact their local FSA office immediately, adding that they should document any cleanup efforts.

"Farmers should take photos of any damage before they begin cleanup," Crawford said. "Farmers could receive help through USDA's Emergency Conservation Program which would help with debris removal, broken terraces and downed fences, but Congress would have to approve funding for that."

Crop insurance will help soften the blow for some farmers, Newby said, but it won't replace a good harvest. Most crops are insured based on an average yield, and the insurance pays only when at least 30 percent of the crop is lost. Insurance may cover the farmer's cost of planting, but isn't enough to pay for labor, equipment, fuel and other expenses.

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