Alabama farmers are assessing damage and waiting for standing water to recede after historic flooding last week and another round of severe weather this week.
Ronny Nicholson of Coffee County, who raises cattle along the Pea River north of Elba, said he estimates he lost more than 30 calves.
“I’m still not sure how many of our 75 cows we lost, but some of them wouldn’t leave their calves,” Nicholson said. “It’s devastating, but we really just had a partial loss while other people in town have lost everything. A lot of people have helped, and the outpouring of support has been great.”
Nicholson used to row crop before the 1990 flood in Elba, when the Pea River crested at over 43 feet. All his land is pasture now, and he said his cows were in a field that didn’t flood in 1990. Last week, the river reached 41.42 feet on Dec. 26.
Historic rainfall created flooding problems throughout Alabama. Rain totals on Christmas day ranged from trace amounts in south Alabama to record-breaking 4.4 inches in Birmingham and 5.34 inches in Huntsville. From Dec. 20-26, National Weather Service (NWS) reporting stations across the state recorded at least one inch of rain, with a swath of 12 inches of rain or more across Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Pike and Russell counties.
“We’ve had some agricultural losses in Alabama, but we’ll have to wait until water recedes on cropland to know the long-term effects,” said Stan Windham with Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “It’s scattered across the state. With it being calving season, some people lost calves. Others have lost equipment they may have left in fields.”
In Twin Springs, north of Eufaula, farmer Allie Corcoran said the water destroyed an old fishing pond.
“It just ate away at the dam, and that 30-acre pond drained in 20 minutes,” said Corcoran, who runs Backyard Orchards, a U-Pick and agritourism operation. “I was scared we wouldn’t have a strawberry field when the rain stopped. Some of the strawberries are sanded over, but no rows washed away. On my dad’s farm, there were irrigation pumps that got under water and will need to be repaired, but thankfully, the irrigation reservoirs are full now.”
At the E.V. Smith Research Center in Shorter, employees are dealing with downed fences and washed out roads, but were grateful they did not lose livestock.
“We have about 450 head of cattle, and we had to move some of them on Christmas Eve just to be sure we could get to them and help in case of any calving problems,” said Greg Pate, research center director. “Some of our ryegrass and wheat is under water, but the grass should recover. Fortunately, it’s early in the wheat growing season, so I think the wheat should be fine, too, as long as we get some dry periods.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which tracks river levels, three Alabama locations are still at moderate flooding levels: Big Nance Creek at Courtland, Tennessee River at Whitesburg and Alabama River at Selma.
While rivers in north Alabama are high, Lawrence County farmer Brian Glenn said the main impact in that area was temporary road flooding.
“We had water up over our wheat, but it drained pretty well so I don’t think there will be any lasting effects from it on our farm,” he said. “However, this morning, we started getting some light rain, and it amazed me how much it’s ponding on the road. We’re supposed to have heavy rain in the middle of the day.”
Numerous watches and warnings remain in effect for Alabama as strong storms pass through the state today, dumping even more rain on saturated ground.
To report agricultural damage, contact a local Farm Service Agency office or local Extension office.