Drought lingers across lower Southeast

Daily temperatures routinely surpassing 100 degrees F. coupled with scarce rainfall amounts have delivered a final knockout punch to many farmers in the lower Southeast, at least for the 2006 production year.

Most Alabama counties already have been declared by USDA to be primary natural disaster areas, and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue made a request in early August for a similar declaration in that state.

Every Alabama county with the exception of one – Lamar – is now eligible for federal drought assistance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 48 Alabama counties as primary disaster areas, and 18 other counties qualified because they are contiguous.

This designation makes farmers in both primary and contiguous counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the emergency loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

In addition, all Alabama counties except Lauderdale are now eligible for emergency haying and grazing for livestock as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner announced the USDA was expanding Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage covered due to persistent drought conditions..

Conner announced that producers’ CRP rental payment will be reduced by only 10 percent instead of the standard 25 percent on CRP lands that are grazed in 2006. This payment reduction will be assessed based on the number of acres actually hayed or grazed times the CRP annual rental rate times 10 percent. CRP participants who prepaid the 25 percent payment reduction, will have the difference refunded.

To be approved for emergency haying or grazing, a county must be listed as a level “D3 Drought – Extreme” or greater, or have suffered at least a 40 percent loss of normal moisture and forage for the preceding four-month qualifying period.

Officials in Alabama are estimating that up to 75 percent of the state’s corn crop and 50 percent of the cotton crop could be lost this year due to drought and extremely high temperatures.

On Aug. 9, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue formally asked the federal government for a disaster declaration that would make farmers in 155 of the state’s 159 counties eligible to obtain low-interest loans.

“Drought conditions have a serious economic impact on our agriculture industry,” says Perdue. “Farmers and farming communities throughout the state are suffering due to the drought conditions that we are experiencing this year. With this disaster declaration, Georgia farmers will be eligible for assistance to help them through this ongoing drought.”

Perdue says Georgia’s USDA emergency board has met to review damage assessment reports, which show production losses in cotton, corn, forage crops, soybeans, pecans, peanuts, tobacco and various fruits and vegetables.

The north Georgia counties of Fannin, Gilmer, Towns and Union decided to wait to submit damage assessment reports until harvest time, he says.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin says the state received disaster assistance for drought in 2005, 2002, 2001 and 2000. “It’s going to be a huge, huge loss this year,” Irvin says. “It’s worse than it has been in a long time. It’s in cotton, peanuts, pasture lands are devastated, and there possibly will be a hay shortage next spring. It is bad.”

Georgia has had a hotter and much drier summer so far partly because tropical storm activity has been very light, says Irvin. Areas of the state are running 7 to 9 inches behind normal rainfall amounts. “If we had a tropical storm, things would get better. A good storm could produce some good rain,” he says.

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