April storms played havoc with poultry, timber

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Alabama Ag Commissioner John McMillan told Andalusia Rotarians Tuesday that the agriculture industry was hit hard by the April tornadoes that roared through Alabama.

Both the poultry and timber industries were hit hardest, he said, and both were left with the similar cleanup dilemmas in the aftermath, he said.

“One of the first problems was the disposal of dead chickens,” McMillan said. “We put a call out for help and immediately the Forestry Commission agreed to send 12 crews.”

State veterinarians had to be on the ground to issue burial permits, McMillan said, adding that it’s estimated 3.2 million birds died on that day.

“More than 200 poultry houses were totally destroyed and more than 500 were heavily damaged,” he said.

Because the poultry operations are considered commercial, they don’t qualify for federal help with debris removal, he said.

Similarly, it is estimated that there is $260 million worth of timber across 200,000 acres on the ground in north Alabama. While property owners in the southern part of the state have done OK with salvage operations in the wake of recent hurricanes, this is different, he said.

“It’s the wrong time of year,” he said, “and the markets are down.”

Many farmers had to replant, he said, describing cotton fields with plants already out of the ground where farmers had to remove storm debris for safety reasons.

In the wake of the storm, the Department of Agriculture also had to deal with food safety issues, he said. The Department of Public Health assisted, taking on convenience stores that had been damaged or without power while the Ag Department inspected major grocery stores. Combined, there were more than 400 that had damages or power outages, he said.

McMillan, who took office in January, also touched on cuts he’s made in the past five months. He said when Gov. Bentley declared 15 percent proration, he had not alternative by job layoffs.

“Eighty-two percent of our budget is salaries and benefits,” he said. “It was our only option.”