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July 07, 2011   Email to Friend 

Drought Blankets the Southeast
Debra Davis

Drought has spelled disaster for Chip Stacey's crops in Conecuh County.
High temperatures and low rainfall have Alabama farmers fearful of what the summer holds for crops and livestock in the state.

Such conditions don't usually occur until well into summer, but early drought conditions that cover two-thirds of the state have delayed and damaged crops. The weather also is costing livestock producers extra money when it comes to feeding cattle.

"With average annual rainfalls below normal, our members who raise livestock are feeling the effects of drought as much as anyone," said Nathan Jaeger, director of the Farmers Federation's Beef, Equine and Hay and Forage Divisions. "It is especially difficult for cattle farmers because they do not normally rely on outside assistance during hard times, and while there are some programs available that individuals utilize, they often are just a fraction of their expenses."

Webb Holmes, the Perry County Farmers Federation's beef chair and owner of the Holmestead Co., said he doesn't know if he will be able to make it through the summer months without more rain.

"We've only gotten about an inch of rain in May, and we really depend on that rain because most grass grows from April to the middle of June," Holmes said. "I'm really afraid that we're not going to have enough grass to get through the summer."

Holmes said if he doesn't have enough grass to get through the summer, he'll have to sell his cows or wean his calves early. "It just depletes your stock," Holmes said. Jaeger said although farmers may have to sell their cattle, they will still be able to stay afloat--for now.

Droughts that have blanketed the Southwest for the past few years, combined with floods in other areas of the country, have caused farmers to liquidate their herds, he said. Currently, the United States has the lowest number of beef cattle in more than five decades.

"The only silver lining in this emerging dust cloud is that at the moment, cattle prices are very high, so farmers will receive premiums for what cattle they can sell," Jaeger said.

The weather is causing concern for row crop farmers as well, said Buddy Adamson, director of the Federation's Feed Wheat and Grains and Cotton Divisions.

Crops in south Alabama have been deteriorating over the last month because of the lack of rainfall and the extremely high temperatures over the last couple of weeks, he said.

Chip Stacey of Conecuh County said his corn crop, which looked promising in early spring, is a total loss.

Adamson said cotton planting across the state slowed in early June when conditions were dry, even though the crop should have been planted by then.

"Many farmers have had to replant some fields because of poor emergence, and many have stopped planting, waiting on rain," Adamson said. "They are evaluating conditions to determine if more replanting will be necessary. Some are also 'dusting in' their crop, hoping for a rain."

While the forecast for most crops appears bleak, a bright spot for Alabama farmers is the small grain crops. Weather has been good for wheat harvest and yields, and prices are above average. Even wheat farmers, however, who also grow cotton, corn, soybeans and peanuts, would welcome a good soaking rain on all their land.

Adamson said conditions in north Alabama are better, although the high temperatures are taking their toll on the corn, cotton and soybean crops. Wheat harvest yields are above average there.

Although Holmes is anxious about what the summer holds for his farm, he said he is still hopeful enough rain will fall in July to get him through until fall.

"We're always optimistic," Holmes said, "or we'd be in another business."



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