Jun 18 2007

Alabama senators seek aid for farmers

Times Daily

By Dennis Sherer

As an unrelenting drought continues to parch farm fields and pastures, lawmakers are seeking disaster aid for Alabama farmers.

U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Jeff Session, R-Ala., have asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to declare all 67 counties as disaster areas.

They initially sought the disaster declaration for the 19 northernmost counties but expanded their request three days later after being flooded with calls, e-mails and letters from farmers throughout the state.

"It is remarkable how quickly a weather situation can change from problematic to dangerous," Shelby said in a prepared statement. "My office has heard from farmers and cattlemen across Alabama who are facing serious economic struggles as these drought conditions continue.

"The need for emergency aid is dire across Alabama to assist these farmers and cattlemen during this disastrous crop season."

Stephen Boyd, press secretary for Sessions, said numerous farmers have contacted the senator.

"We're hearing from a number of farmers, cattle guys and the groups who represent them," he said.

U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., has also contacted Department of Agriculture officials.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that most of north Alabama, including portions of Colbert, Lauderdale and Franklin counties and all of Lawrence, is in an exceptional drought, the most severe category.

This is the driest January through mid-June period on record in the Shoals. Rainfall is more than 17 inches below normal for the year.

Colbert County farmer Luther Bishop said it the driest spring he has ever seen. "It's bad. We need some rain."

Bishop said some of his corn is beyond saving, even if it does rain. He has not given up hope on his entire crop, though.

"We can still make a good crop on our late corn and beans, if we get some rain in the next few days," he said.

The National Weather Service is not predicting any widespread heavy rain this week. Only isolated showers are in the forecast.