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Farmer Shep Morris displays drought-damaged corn from his farm after a news conference Friday near Montgomery.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Farmer Shep Morris displays drought-damaged corn from his farm after a news conference Friday near Montgomery.

In ruined corn field, state farmers ask for speedy relief

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama farmers and an advocacy organization urged federal officials Friday to release $17 million in emergency aid to drought-devastated farms across the state.

They chose a symbolic site to make their plea, gathering in sweltering heat in a dusty field north of Montgomery amid the ruins of what was supposed to be 400 acres of corn.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release the $17 million to help state farmers buy out-of-state hay, irrigate crops that are still alive and to replant fields burned up by the drought. The nine members of Alabama's congressional delegation have asked federal agriculture officials for the money.

Also, Gov. Bob Riley has asked the USDA for $10 million to be used to transport hay from rain-soaked states like Texas and Louisiana to Alabama, Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, said.

Many cattle farmers were forced to sell cows early because of a hay shortage.

In a telephone interview later Friday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions said the drought has become the number one priority for Alabama's congressional delegation.

"This is a 100-year drought. This is a very serious time for our agriculture community," Sessions said. He said he supports Riley's request for emergency funds to move hay into Alabama.

"We are in a crisis with hay. There are areas in the state that have had no hay produced this year," Sessions said.

Sessions said he is also working to improve crop insurance for Alabama farmers and open up previously restricted land in Alabama and surrounding states for hay production.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that about 25 percent of the state, mostly in North and Northwest Alabama, is under exceptional drought conditions, the worst possible listing. The monitor shows all of Alabama's 67 counties under some type of drought conditions, but also shows some improvement because of recent rains.

Only 43.5 percent of the state is listed as being under extreme or exceptional drought, compared to 70.5 percent a week ago.

Standing in his dusty field Friday, Shep Morris said he tried to grow corn, but without sufficient rain the crop burned up and has mostly been torn down, replaced by cotton plants, a crop that doesn't need as much rain as corn and can be grown later in the year.

"We really need help now," Morris said, standing behind a podium set up in front of a row of wilted corn plants.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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