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July 13, 2007   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
July 13, 2007

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby, right, discusses the drought with the media following a press conference in a field near Montgomery Friday morning. Other farmers included, from left, Dorman Grace of Walker County, Shep Morris of Macon County, Dr. Nealy Barrett Jr. of Elmore County, Jimmy Parnell of Chilton County and Max Bozeman of Coffee County.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama agricultural organizations today called on state and national officials to speed relief to the state's farmers who have been hit hard by the worst drought in 100 years.

During a news conference held in a parched cornfield just outside of Montgomery, representatives from the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Cattlemen's Association, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and Alabama Forestry Association gathered to let farmers tell their stories.

Shep Morris, who suffered a total loss on 700 acres of corn, said this is the worst spring drought he's ever experienced.

"I've seen plenty of summers when rain quit, but I've never seen one when it never began," Morris said. "It decimated our corn crop and made it very difficult to get a stand of cotton. We destroyed about 700 acres of corn and kept about 500 acres that might make a half crop. This is an unprecedented situation. We don't need loans that saddle you with debt. We just need some help on the out-of-pocket expenses. We're not looking to make a profit." The farmers said they appreciate Alabama's congressional delegation, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and Gov. Bob Riley for requesting drought assistance. However, the farmers fear their immediate needs may not be met unless Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture act quickly to fund disaster programs.

Among the types of assistance farmers need most are: disaster funding for crop losses, the release of discretionary funding by USDA to fund emergency conservation programs to dig wells and replant pastures, cost-share assistance to replant pine seedlings killed by the drought, money to offset transportation costs associated with buying hay from out of state and long-term assistance in the form of a 2007 Farm Bill that funds irrigation initiatives, a permanent disaster program and more affordable crop insurance.

"In a normal year, we'd have 1,000 rolls of hay stored by now. As of today, we don't have a single bale," said Elmore County cattleman Nealy Barrett. "We know it's going to be tough to keep our cattle fed this winter, so we've already gotten rid of 250 cows. We're in a serious situation, and I've never seen anything like it."

The farmers are asking not only for help from lawmakers, but also their fellow citizens. They encouraged those concerned about the drought to contact their congressmen and senators and request an emergency appropriation for the agricultural disaster in Alabama. Concerned citizens also are urged to call the secretary of agriculture and request discretionary funding be released for emergency programs that could benefit producers.

For senators and congressmen, call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121; for Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, call (202) 720-3631. You may also email your congressman, senators and Secretary Johanns by clicking on the flashing "Action Alert" in the top right corner of www.AlfaFarmers.org.

Walker County farmer Dorman Grace said poultry farmers also have been affected by the drought.

"Being a poultry producer I have not been able to spread litter on my fields, there has not been the water available to soak up the nutrients," he said. "I have also sold over 100 brood cows in order to afford feed for the rest of my herd, and I'm expecting to face some re-seeding costs down the road. Overall, the drought has affected every part of my farming operation."

For timber farmers, the drought is to blame for dead seedlings and mature trees as well as low prices and disease problems.

"The drought has hurt us in a number of different ways with our timber," said Chilton County farmer Jimmy Parnell. "First, we lost about 70-80 percent of the pine seedlings we planted in late February and March. In addition, there has been a lot of older timber lost this year because the trees already were weakened by hurricanes in recent years."

Drought-stressed trees also have fallen victim to pine beetle damage, and Parnell said the dry weather has caused a glut of timber on the market -- driving down prices.

"Mills have been full to capacity due to the fact that loggers have been able to log at maximum speed. This has driven the price down," he said. "Low river flows also could possibly shut down some paper mills. If mills were to shut down, it would devastate the economy in central Alabama."

Although showers in the last two weeks have brought some relief, Coffee County farmer Max Bozeman said, for many farmers, it's too little, too late.

"Our prayers for rain have been answered, and we're glad of that. We're also thankful to our congressional delegation for urging Secretary of Agriculture Johanns to provide some emergency financial assistance," he said. "Now is the time for action if we are to help the cattlemen in this state. We're too far behind to secure enough local feed to carry our cows through the winter, and shipping in the required resources is cost prohibitive to too many cattlemen.

"We need help, and we need it now or we risk long-term damage to the important segments of Alabama's number one industry," said Bozeman, who serves as president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association.

For more information about drought conditions, visit www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.

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