Drought emergency declared for much of state
by Cameron Steele
Jul 13, 2012 | 5146 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a drought emergency in 33 Alabama counties and made low-interest federal loans available to farmers in affected areas as a result.

Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega counties are some of those included under the emergency status, according to a press release issued today by Gov. Robert Bentley’s office.

Twelve other counties, including Calhoun and Cherokee, are also listed as areas affected by the drought; farmers there also are eligible for the federal loans, the release said. The 33 counties declared “primary natural disaster areas” have, according to the press release, “faced severe drought conditions for at least eight consecutive weeks or extreme drought conditions at any time during the growing season.”

The dry conditions across the state this summer were exacerbated by days of record-breaking heat in June, said meteorologist Michael Garrison.

“That heat … really brought out of the worst of the drought,” said Garrison, who is stationed at the National Weather Service office in Birmingham. “We’ve sort of broken that pattern right now, though.”

For the past five days, Anniston and many areas across the state have experienced thunderstorms and rainfall every day, which has provided some relief, Garrison said. Since the beginning of July, Anniston has seen 3.12 inches of rain – about 1.3 inches more than the city usually sees by this time of the month.

But the recent rainfall “is not enough to eliminate the severe and extreme drought conditions that many places are experiencing,” Bentley said in the press release. “Farmers across Alabama are suffering through what has been an extended drought from last year.”

Still, the week of rain has restored the hope of many area farmers, according to David Derrick, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent based in Cherokee County. There’s still enough time left in the growing season for their soybean and cotton crops to make it out OK, Derrick said, especially if the rain keeps up.

“The corn crop has been damaged by the drought — we don’t know how much yet — but it has been hurt,” Derrick said. “We’ll know more in another month.”

Next week’s forecast includes the possibility of more rain and thunderstorms, but Garrison said most counties will need a lot of precipitation to reach average weekly rainfall levels – about 1.25 inches a week for July.

“And it is summer, so we will have more hot and dry periods ahead of us,” Garrison said. “It’ll take a good bit more rain to significantly catch us up for where we need to be, especially for the farmers.”

The release urges farmers in the 33 counties under emergency status or the other 12 affected counties to contact their local office of the Farm Service Agency to begin the loan application process.

Derrick said he didn’t know if area farmers would take advantage of the available federal loans.

“I know it can help some farmers,” he said. “Things look a lot better right now than they did last week.”

Staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @CSteele_star.

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