Drought could mean lower crop yields for local farmers
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Jul 19, 2012 | 4296 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Farmer Keith Bryant checks a cotton plant in his Jacksonville field Wednesday. Bryant says his plants are much smaller than normal this year due to the dry conditions. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Farmer Keith Bryant checks a cotton plant in his Jacksonville field Wednesday. Bryant says his plants are much smaller than normal this year due to the dry conditions. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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The drought that’s making national headlines for claiming corn crops in the Midwest is affecting local yields, too.

Farmers in Calhoun County report losing portions of their corn, soybean and cotton crops because of the dry conditions. Some crops have been scorched by the sun or dwarfed by dry conditions, but the extent of the damage won’t be known until harvest season ends this fall.

“We’re just now beginning to get into the harvest,” said Auburn University’s Dennis Delaney, who specializes in soybean production. “We really don’t know what the yields are going to be until we put the machines in the field.”

Rainfall in and around Calhoun County has been spotty in recent days, revitalizing some crops. At the same time, the sun destroyed portions of other crops. Overall, rainfall totals remain low for the year.

So far this year, 23.73 inches of rainfall has been recorded by weather officials in Anniston. That’s six inches less than the 29.73 inches that is considered normal for this time of year, said Aaron Gleason, a meteorologist who works from the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Calhoun and each of its surrounding counties are experiencing a moderate, extreme or severe level of drought. Last week farmers around the country and in 33 Alabama counties became eligible for low-interest federal loans as the result of a federal drought emergency declaration.

Highs will be in the low 90s and rain chances will hover around 60 percent, with widespread showers and thunderstorms likely, Gleason said. But even if rainfall totals rise to match annual norms, the state might not escape drought-like conditions.

Brian Fuchs, a climatologist for the Drought Monitor, said that drought conditions can persist even when rainfall is near normal or slightly below normal.

David Derrick, a regional extension agent for a 10-county region in northeast Alabama, helps farmers diagnose crop ailments and develop strategies to improve the plants before harvest. He said the drought is affecting some farms worse than others and rainfall is offering relief to some, but not to others.

“There’s pockets in the whole area where it’s just extremely dry and then some areas have had showers that have helped them be in a little better state,” Derrick said of the 10-county region. “As you go south and east, it gets worse.”

Farmers in the southeast corner of the state may have been harder hit by the drought, but it’s the northern portion of Calhoun County that’s been the driest, local farmers say.

Continued showers this month and next could salvage crop yields for cotton and soy plants, but bushels and bushels have already been lost.

Doug Trantham, owner of Trantham Farms, manages 1,100 acres of row crops. He grows cotton, corn, wheat, soy beans and he raises cows.

Most of his land is in Alexandria, but some is near Jacksonville. There he has 125 acres of corn, 70 percent of which, he said, will be lost.

“We’re not suffering as bad as some of the folks up in Jacksonville and in the northern end of the county,” Trantham said.

About 10 miles north, Keith Bryant’s cotton crop is struggling. Normally waist high by now, it only rises to his knees.

He remains hopeful that rain, which recently revitalized his soy crop, will also help his cotton along.

“We got a chance to make a little bit of a cotton crop,” Bryant said.

David Rogers grows corn, hay, livestock, and soybeans on 1,500 acres in Cleburne, Calhoun, Cherokee and Polk counties, the last one being across the Georgia state line. He said he’s seen first-hand how a rain shower will cover one crop and skip another.

According to Rogers, communities in Cherokee County have been particularly hard-hit by the drought. In Rock Run “it was a dust bowl,” until just “a couple of days ago.”

Despite losses, Trantham, Bryant and Rogers remain hopeful. Each has lost a percentage of his crops, but each said the plants that have survived the drought can still yield a sizable enough crop.

“If we could get some beneficial rain now, it might get us out of the toilet,” Rogers said.

Rain can revitalize the corn and cotton crops because they yield a harvest over time. The corn crop, however, is less sustainable as it matures just once.

If drought hits at just the wrong time in the corn’s development, as it did this year, it’s likely to be lost, Delaney said.

“The corn crop is probably the worst hit,” Delaney said.

Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_star
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