Drought continues to scorch area crops

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2000

Managing Editor

July 5, 2000 10 PM

To say farmers are concerned about this year’s drought would be a gross understatement. In fact, the term "desperate" would be more fitting for most of them.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

"I came here in 1977 and I have not seen anything like this," said Pike County Alabama Cooperative Extension Service County Agent David Carpenter. "On a scale of one to 10, this is a 12 as far as I’m concerned."

Facing an already bleak forecast from a pricing standpoint, a good yield became important for area peanut and cotton farmers as 1999 drew to a close. The drought conditions experienced locally through the latter days of last summer and the fall left many farmers with depleted wells that resulted from a falling water table.

But things didn’t get better.

As the new millennium dawned, growers continued to face drought conditions like most have never before seen.

The result has been that farmers are becoming increasingly desperate and as most crops are hitting the critical growth period, continued lack of rain has put Carpenter on alert.

Cattle farmers are some of the hardest hit growers in the area as a grass shortage initiated by the drought has forced them to tap hay pastures for food to keep their cows alive.

"The hay situation is critical," Carpenter said. "Farmers are having to use what should be their winter stores of hay to keep their cows alive because the grazing pastures are not suitable due to rain shortages. This will have serious long-term effects."

But cattle farmers are not the only ones hit hard. Rays of sunshine instead of much-needed drops of rain are pelting peanut fields.

"I would also say our peanut situation is critical," Carpenter said. "And the lack of rain has a lot of farmers concerned about their wells and the supply of water they have. The water table is falling very low."

The falling water table and concerns about the levels of area ponds mean that irrigation is not an option to some farmers.

"The ponds are drying up," Carpenter said. "And with the well water being low, there’s not a lot that these folks can do."

Carpenter said the problems for farmers started last year, and some are just now being seriously realized.

"Because there was so little rain last fall, the water table did not replenish itself, leaving it low," Carpenter said. "Because of this, it hasn’t taken long for the short supply to be tapped."

And the area drought continues, farmers will see less hay in the fall for their cattle, and heavy rains in the fall will be needed to rebuild the water table.

All crops have been affected, Carpenter said, including Pike County’s growing broiler population.

As water needs escalate, Carpenter fears that broilers will suffer a water shortage that could, "cause the deaths of thousands of broilers in just a matter of a few hours the way things are going."

Carpenter said this year appears to be headed for disaster, but he hopes programs like the state’s recent "Hay Aid" program will continue to provide a temporary stay on the problem.

"This isn’t going to solve our problems, but it can temporarily relieve some potential for a disastrous year," he said.