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Sparks discusses aid for drought

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

BELLE MINA — Mother Nature seems to be toying with area farmers.

Just when growers start to think this year's crop might be enough to keep them out of the red, another weather disaster sweeps through and destroys their optimism.

Because of inadequate rainfall during the winter, most Alabama counties went into the growing season under drought conditions. In April, unusually cold temperatures blew across the Valley, damaging freshly planted corn and wiping out almost all fruit crops.

Though temperatures didn't immediately rise to scorching levels following the freeze, the lack of moisture continued to cause problems until late June, when farmers' hopes began to grow along with their crops because of a few downpours through early July.

But the rains didn't last long, and now, with forecasters predicting triple-digit temperatures during the next few days, the outlook is more grave than before, said state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks.

Sparks and a team of agriculture experts and industry leaders traveled throughout the state from Belle Mina to Headland on Tuesday to discuss current conditions and needs with growers and update them on the status of state and federal assistance.

"I know that you sometimes get the feeling that industry doesn't care or maybe doesn't understand, and I hope you'll leave today knowing that we do and that we're coming up with a solution," he told about 30 farmers at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center in Belle Mina.

Aerial view

Sparks flew in from St. Louis with Monsanto Co. executives. He said the differences in irrigated and non-irrigated crops were visibly evident from the plane as they flew into Alabama.

"We're in the worst drought in Alabama in over 100 years, and the latest drought monitor is telling us that it's growing again," he said. "Then, when you start putting these 100-degree days on it, it takes a terrible hit. What we thought was a positive is turning back into a negative."

According to the National Weather Service, all of North Alabama is under a heat advisory with predicted highs of 101 degrees Thursday and 100 degrees Friday.

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