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FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2007
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Dry corn stalks in a field along U.S. 31 in Southern Limestone County on Thursday. First cold, then drought have wreaked havoc on crops across North Alabama.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Dry corn stalks in a field along U.S. 31 in Southern Limestone County on Thursday. First cold, then drought have wreaked havoc on crops across North Alabama.

Crops are
drying up

Drought continues to
hit Alabama farmers hard

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Officials declined to put a dollar figure on the economic impact of this year's drought on Alabama's multibillion-dollar agricultural industry.

"The conditions in Alabama today are so bad that it is like putting a thermometer in your mouth and watching the temperature continue to rise hour by hour and day by day," Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said.

Until the drought eases, or the state's growing season ends, Sparks said, there is no way to know the cost.

"The drought of 2007 in Alabama will go down in history as putting down more farmers than any year in history," he said.

Sparks said the state needs a federal drought assistance package unlike any before. But it is still too early to know how much that package should be. He wants more than a low-cost, federal loan.

Grim statistics

The commissioner said state statistics are grim. Sixty-five of 67 counties are sustaining severe or extreme drought, he said. Only Baldwin and Mobile counties are not affected. For the same time period in 2006, 22 percent of the state was in exceptional drought.

Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties are experiencing exceptional drought conditions with the lowest rainfall in 100 years.

"Ninety-five percent of the corn crop is gone, 75 percent of the cotton is gone, 70 percent of the peanuts are gone, 70 percent to 75 percent of the pasture land is gone," he said.

With fewer agricultural products, Sparks said, the effects on the state's economy will linger. He sees impact on gasoline, food products and in employment at cotton gins, in the shipping industry and other sectors.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Survey office in Montgomery agree impact cannot precede crop yields. Growing season for many Alabama crops continues until November.

In North Alabama, farmers like Brian Glenn of Hillsboro have already said 2007 is as bad a year for agriculture as they or their parents remember.

"The way I look at this year, there is no potential for profit," Glenn said earlier this month.

While the final figures may not be in for Alabama, nobody expects a banner year for the farm and forestry industry, whichbrought in more than $5.15 billion the previous year.

"All of the crops are having a hard time," said Julie Schmidt, a statistician who collects data for the state's weekly Crop Progress and Condition Report. USDA and state agriculture officials use the report to measure conditions in agriculture each week.

With so little rain, Schmidt said, it is hard for the plants to go through normal germination stages, much less reach harvest level. She said agricultural officials still hold some hope for later-maturing cotton, peanut and soybean crops, if the state gets rain soon.

Crops by the numbers

The June 25 Crop and Progress Report puts in statistics the struggle that farmers face.

During the third week of June, only 49 percent of the state’s corn crop contained budding ears of corn. For the same period in 2006, the figure was 73 percent. Overall, 69 percent of the state’s corn crop is in very poor condition and 19 percent in poor condition.

Data in the report categorize other crop conditions:

  • Cotton — 49 percent very poor, 27 percent poor, 4 percent good or excellent.

  • Soybeans — 65 percent very poor, 23 percent poor, 2 percent good or excellent.

  • Peanuts — 34 percent very poor, 33 percent poor, 16 percent good or excellent.

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