Jun 22 2007

Area receives scattered rain as drought worsens

The Cleburne News

By Staff Reports

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks expresses his increasing concern as Alabama continues to experience one of the most severe droughts in the United States this year.

Between April 1 and June 1, most of Alabama has only received 2-4 inches of rain. The US Drought Monitor has now raised the drought rating of a substantial part of Alabama to level four, or Exceptional.

With ponds drying up and virtually no grass or hay, many farmers have had to make harsh decisions. Sparks hopes that the Department of Agriculture & Industries will be able to find some solutions to help farmers.

“We have to keep trying to help our farmers get through this,” said Sparks. “This is much more than a rough patch or even a bad year. We have farmers in Alabama who have had to sell their brood cows for slaughter because they can’t feed them. When farmers are forced to sell their mama cows, it is like they are selling the family business. That should not be the only answer.”

For example, in the second half of 2006 farmers began selling off more of their cows because of drought conditions. From July 2006 through May 2007, about 25,000 more cattle were sold for slaughter and 2,000 pair cattle were sold compared to the previous year. Sparks says that the Department is working on several alternatives to help farmers save their livelihood.

The Department of Agriculture and Industries and Alabama Farmers Federation have joined forces to help find hay for drought-stricken farmers in Alabama. A listing of available hay will be listed on the Federation website, www.AlfaFarmers.org Farmers interested in listing hay for sale on the website may contact Mike Shewbart with the Department of Agriculture at (256) 246-1543 or Federation Hay and Forage Director Perry Mobley at (334) 613-4221.

Sparks is also asking the USDA to get Conservation Reserve Program land (CRP) released for grazing and that insurance companies release destroyed corn to be used for feed.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), joined by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), has contacted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to request a disaster declaration for 19 counties in Alabama affected by the severe drought.

“The severe drought is having a devastating effect on Alabama’s farmers,” said Shelby “There are corn farmers who lost crops during the Easter freeze, replanted, and are now in danger of losing the second crop as a result of the drought. There are also cattlemen throughout Alabama who are faced with limited grazing, no hay, and high corn prices and therefore are being forced to sell underweight cattle or liquidate their entire cow-calf operation. The long-term ramifications of these events are significant for the cattleman, farmer, and consumer. I urge the Secretary to provide this funding, which will address the needs of Alabama’s farmers who are on the cusp of losing everything.”

Blount, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Morgan, Shelby, St. Clair, Walker, and Winston counties are currently experiencing emergency drought levels and would benefit from this declaration.

Shelby and Sessions again contacted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns for a second time to highlight the severity of Alabama’s drought conditions and requests an emergency declaration for the entire state. This request comes after release of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, which state as experiencing severe drought conditions.

“It is remarkable how quickly a weather situation can change from problematic to dangerous,” said Shelby. “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 the state of Alabama to assist these farmers and cattlemen during this disastrous crop season

Drought Brings Lack of Forages and Larger Stockyard Numbers

Reid Blossom

A little over 1500. That’s how many animals sold on a recent Monday at Northwest Alabama Livestock Auction in Russellville.

“A normal figure for this time of year would be closer to eight or nine hundred,” says Jim Martin, manager of the stockyard in Russellville.

That showing is not a stand alone event in the state. Markets around Alabama are seeing record runs of cattle come through the auction ring. The reason? Not surprisingly, drought.

Dry conditions around the state are forcing many cattlemen to wits end as they struggle through a second drought ridden summer. Sparse summer grazing and a local hay crop that seems to have peaked in April are causing a certain amount of anxiety as producers look ahead to winter when they traditionally depend on stored forage resources.

Fred and Cindy Penn of Cullman recently brought a load of young calves in to the Cullman Stockyard, choosing to wean them early in an effort to sync the nutritional requirements of their cows with the resources they have available to provide.

“In the last three months, we’ve probably had three inches of rain. We fertilized our hay fields with chicken litter but that still yielded only 100 rolls out of a cutting that should have produced 175,” says Fred, a County Engineer in Cullman who describes himself as a part-time cattleman.

“From what we’ve seen and heard, the prices on cattle are staying up and we do expect to get some good rainfall before the summer is out. What we’re worried about is feeding this winter,” continues Penn.

“We’re still seeing good prices for animals, but if something doesn’t happen with some rainfall, we’ve got people who are really going to be hurting,”

says Hoagie Parrish of the Cullman Stockyard.

Many believe the reason the market for cattle in Alabama is holding is the influence of outside buyers coming in from out of state to buy cattle to send to other parts of the country. Areas of Texas and Oklahoma that have recently pulled out of a ten-year drought are seeing cattle come in from Alabama and other southeastern states that are currently behind in rainfall.

“We’ve gotten calls from cattlemen in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas offering to contract graze cows for cattlemen in Alabama. We’ve also received a number of calls from cattlemen in the state needing hay and cattlemen from outside Alabama wanting to sell hay. That prompted us to start a free hay directory on our website to help put the two groups in contact,” says Dr. Billy Powell, ACA Executive Vice President.

“I’ve been on the road in North Alabama and it sure is dry up there. But, it’s no different here in Coffee County. All of our cattlemen need help. We’ve been in Montgomery and we’re going to Washington to let these lawmakers know that the cattlemen are hurting,” says ACA President Max Bozeman.

While all agree that the efforts of the cattlemen’s association were key in the passage of the recent DOT bill, it’s also certain that another swell of grassroots support will be necessary to rally aid from lawmakers for cattlemen in Alabama. Stay in touch with your county association leaders; a USDA officials will be on hand at the July ACA Board meeting with more information on programs that will be available to cattlemen who are weathering the storm of this record drought.