WEEKEND RAINFALL DROWNS TALLADEGA FARMERS' FIELDS
WINTERBORO, Ala., May 20, 2013 — Portions of Talladega County remain underwater today following heavy rainfall that began Friday night. Farmers Bob Luker and James White say this isn't the first time the area has flooded, but the unexpected storms have left them with an uncertain future.
|Top Left: A bulk of the corn acreage at one of Talladega County farmer Bob Luker's fields sits underwater following severe storms that hit the area May 17-19. Top Right: Crops that escaped the water were covered by debris from nearby fields. Bottom Right: Luker assesses the damage to one of his corn fields. Around 500 of Luker's 2,000 total acres were underwater following the weekend's storms. Bottom Left: A new fence near James White's farm buckled from the weight of debris and water following floods that affected a bulk of Talladega County.|
"Some farmers I know received nearly 10 inches of rain this weekend, which makes the nearly-three inches I received not seem like that much," said Luker, who has around 2,000 acres of row crops in central and northwestern Talladega County. "But that much rain in just a few short hours drowned around 500 acres of corn and wheat, and it changes the layout for the remainder of our year."
Luker said a wetter-than-average spring had already put him two months behind in planting corn — some acreage of which he had to replant once already. He's not sure if he'll be able to get in the fields in time to plant cotton before it's too late, or if he'll have to go with an early crop of soybeans instead.
"We may not be able to plant anything, especially if the wet trends continue," he said. "The prospects now aren't good at all."
Instead of this week's plan to plant cotton, Luker said assessing the planting prospective on a field-by-field basis will be his focus. While the flood drowned a chunk of his future profit potential, this fourth-generation farmer says he may have fared better than most thanks to crop insurance and his conservation practices.
"We are a 100-percent no-till farm," he added. "That's really been a bright spot during this — seeing some of the things you do right. On a 300-acre field we have that's a total loss now, it's especially come in handy. Because it hadn't been plowed up in 11 years, it had a good cover crop on it and a good amount of crop residue. A lot of the residue washed away, but we can put more residue down. What we can't do is make more soil. If this acreage had been plowed up, our topsoil would have washed away. Our no-till conservation practices kept soil loss to a minimum and, ultimately, saved our farm."
Down the road from one of Luker's corn fields, heavy rainfall and the rush of water from a nearby creek leveled James White's fence line. In addition to dealing with 3-to-6 feet deep waters in his pastures around nearby creeks and the uncertainty of other damages, White said he had to work quickly to pick up the fences.
"When the fences fell, our cows got out of the pastures and onto the roads," said White, who has 80 head of beef cattle. "The first thing we had to do was get them out of the roads in case the barriers were lifted and people started traveling this way. Several neighbors came by and helped me prop up the fences as best we could, and a good friend and neighbor allowed me to put a few cows on his farm until I could get the rest of the fences up. Now, we're waiting for everything to dry up."
Just as fast as the Choccolocco and Eastaboga creeks overflowed and flooded his land, water levels have subsided. Having his farm located near the creek bottom is generally a good thing, White said, but flooded fields are an unfortunate result.
"This area tends to flood to some degree, but it's probably been 20 years since the water's gotten up this high," he added. "I'm just thankful it's gone down as quickly as it has. I remember telling my daughter, who lives on the edge of the farm, that it'd be a few days before she could get out, and I was wrong. Water is still knee-deep in some areas, but most of the roads are accessible again."
White said he was fortunate he didn't lose any cows during the storms, but he was a little upset about the fences.
"It's hard to tell now, but these were new fences," White said, looking around at remnants of wire and wood now barely standing, weighed down with debris. "If there's any kind of [financial] relief that comes from this, I really hope I can get some help to fix them."
Going forward, Luker and White agree events like the weekend's unexpected flash floods encourage an evaluation of current operating methods and things they might do a little differently in the future. At the end of the day, however, they recognize no plan is fool-proof.
"From every situation, if you look at it and really ponder it, you can learn something," Luker said. "I'm proud of how we've handled things, and we'll continue to do everything we can to become more efficient and better stewards of this land we love so much. Like life, weather is unpredictable, and there's only so much planning anyone can do."