News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2007

Allison and Matt with their father, Brian Glenn, in a field of stunted corn in Lawrence County near Hillsboro.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Allison and Matt with their father, Brian Glenn, in a field of stunted corn in Lawrence County near Hillsboro.

Drought worsening
Farmers giving up hope for salvaging growing season

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Lawrence County farmer Brian Glenn looks out over the drought-stunted corn and parched wheat on the family’s 2,100-acre Glenn Acres Farm and considers reality.

After damage from the Easter freeze and not the drought, it is probably time for Glenn and his partner, brother Don Glenn, to write off 2007 and plan for next year.

“The way I look at this year, there is no potential for profit,” Glenn said.

To illustrate the seriousness of this year’s drought, Brian Glenn looks to the corn growing barely knee high in a field beside his home in Hillsboro. Normally corn is 4 feet to 6 feet. He knows that even if it rains, there will not be enough to sell.

The Glenn wheat crop is another story that illustrates the plight not only of Alabama farmers who grow crops but also of the state’s cattle farmers.

With little hope of enough feed to winter cattle, farmers are selling stock early in record numbers. Sales include animals at the peak of their breeding years.

Early cattle sales also mean lower weight and that translates to smaller profits. Next year, with much cattle stock gone, there will be fewer sales but also less money to operate.

Tom Maples raises registered Angus cattle on the family farm north of Elkmont where his parents also still live near the Tennessee border. Today, Maples has 400 head of cattle, including 150 “momma” cows.

Like the previous six generations of his family to farm the property, Maples said, he is looking ahead but not panicking because of the drought. He constantly measures his herd’s productivity.

“The current cows really have to be working pretty hard,” Maples said. “If they are not, they are going to market.”

Maples said he has some pasture land that has grass because he kept it in reserve, so his cows still have something to eat.

He also plans spring and fall calving seasons and holds out hope for better weather.

“I think we had one bale of hay left in March,” he said.

Glenn, 43, said he and his brother are used to the ups and downs of farming, having grown up on the land. The freeze and the drought took those ups and downs to a new level.

Things are so dry on the farm, which includes no irrigation system, that Glenn worries about fire. The Fourth of July is approaching and the fireworks stand operating nearby is open. “If somebody threw a bottle rocket, the whole field could catch fire,” Glenn said

The Glenns lost over half of their 700-acre winter wheat crop to the Easter freeze. They contracted with buyers for the estimated remaining crop, a common practice, he said. With drought, the yield will be less than one-third of the estimate, at best.

“Now I have wheat sold that I cannot deliver,” Glenn said. “I will have to buy back those contracts at high prices.” He estimates the out-of-pocket expense for the contracts at $15,000 to $20,000.

“If there is a silver lining in this, it is that I have more time to spend with my family,” Glenn said. He takes his 8-year-old daughter, Allison, to swimming lessons, something not possible in a normal growing year. He also spends more time with his son, Matt, 3, and wife, Donna. He is more grateful than ever for the steady income that his wife brings home as a schoolteacher.

Farming experts say they do not want to predict what may happen to North Alabama’s farm industry if the area does not get rain soon. One thing that is already clear, however, is that the impact of the drought will not be over this year.

“This is a very, very serious drought,” said Alabama Farmers Federation spokesman Dave Rickey. “Farmers are used to dealing with this sort of situation but a lot of North Alabama farmers are running out of options.”

Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Executive Director Billy Powell said cattle farmers are selling “the heart of their herds.”

Powell said cattle markets are busy this year and prices are good. Next year will be different.

“We are at a point in Alabama where we have never been before,” said Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. “A thunderstorm might grow us a little grass, but it will take much more to replenish the water table in Alabama.”

Farms in Valley

A number of farmers the area are feeling the impact of the 2007 drought and late-season spring freeze this year. Figures from the 2002 census, the most current data available, show the following tri-county data:

Morgan County

  • Farms — 1,300.

  • Average farm size — 114 acres.

    Limestone County

  • Farms — 1,235.

  • Average farm size — 183 acres.

    Lawrence County

  • Farms — 1,597.

  • Average farm size — 147 acres.

    Alabama Farmers Federation

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