Fields, lakes drying up as drought conditions plague state

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 25, 2006

Thursday's sporadic thundershowers were a welcome relief to area farmers who have been watching their crops dry up and die because of the heat.

Greenville resident and farmer Frank Pouncey said this is the worst drought he's ever seen.

&#8220Someone told me it was like this in the 1950s, but I wasn't here thenŠI was in the service,” he said.

Pouncey said a lack of substantial rain and daily beatings from the sun, combined with 90-degree temperatures, have turned two-thirds of his corn crop to cinders. Thursday's rain was nice to see, he said, but it would take a week of slow, steady showers to make farmers feel comfortable.

Butler County is drying up. The water level in creeks and lakes are dropping. Farmers, like Pouncey have entered survival mode, and homeowners are looking outside their houses at dead yards instead of lush green grass.

&#8220It has gone beyond bad,” said David S. Jordan, Butler County Assistant Extension Agent. &#8220The grass is dying and there's fields that have completely died. The vegetable crops have reached a critical point. Cattle farmers don't have enough hay to feed their cows. In the long run, you're going to see people having to sell their cows.”

The fruit on trees is shriveling in the sun, said Jordan. At the home of Guthrie Brooks, on Fort Dale Rd., Jordan said normally ripe peaches have been reduced to less than the size of a golf ball.

Pouncey said he visited Pigeon Creek and waded deep up to his knees.

&#8220There's some places where you're seeing bottom where you've never seen it before,” he said.

The Lawn-and-Garden Moisture Index released each week by the Office of the State Climatologist shows the entire state in need of rain. Moisture levels are severely lacking across Alabama, indicated on the map as orange and red, with just a few spots of green showing. The same agency's Crop Moisture Index has Butler County and much of south Alabama, the coastal plains, under a drought advisory.

Gov. Bob Riley and Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks traveled to Washington D.C. this week to meet with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to ask for assistance for farmers hit by the drought.

&#8220Our farmers are facing a disastrous situation,” said Riley. &#8220Agriculture is Alabama's number one employer. It is critical that we get the farmers the help they need.”

Sparks said this spring was the &#8220driest in recorded history.”

&#8220This has caused damage not only to our row crops such as corn, cotton and peanuts but to our cattle farmers as well,” he said. &#8220I have met with many of these farmers in person and talked with more by phone and they are asking for the same thing - help.”

Senior citizens in Butler County who look forward to receiving free fruits and vegetables through the Farmers Market Nutrition Program are also finding produce choices slim. Jordan said during a recent market held at Beeland Park, one farmer showed up.

&#8220We usually try to sign up and have around 15 vendors,” he said. &#8220The farmers around here don't have anything to sell.”

Jordan said Butler County farmers definitely need some type of federal or state assistance.

&#8220They way it is now, it's going to be hard for some of these farmers to make a profit and pay the bills,” he said. &#8220The dry weather is taking its toll.”

Riley sent a letter to Johanns this Tuesday requesting an agriculture disaster declaration for parts of Alabama. The declaration would allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans through the federal government and receive other types of emergency assistance.

Meanwhile, the 10-day forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain, or less, for the next seven days, with a 60 percent possibility of thundershowers next weekend.