McMillan: Fed emergency needed

Published 12:04 am Friday, July 1, 2011

Drought conditions have impacted Alabama’s crop yields, imperiling farmers in the southern third of the state to the point that federal emergency aid will be needed, said Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan Thursday.

McMillan has asked Gov. Robert Bentley to declare federal drought conditions in the state, which will begin the process of getting a federal drought emergency declaration.

Earlier this month, Bentley placed all 67 Alabama counties under an emergency drought declaration.

“Right now, all counties in the southern tier of Alabama are suffering an extreme drought,” McMillan said. “Other counties will follow suit if our current low rainfall pattern persists. The next two weeks are critical.

“This is especially frustrating for farmers in a year when commodity prices are at record highs,” he said.

Chuck Simon, county extension agent, said recent rains may help some farmers recoup some of what’s been lost over recent months because of the lack of rain.

“There are several crop types that were hit,” Simon said. “Mostly, though, it was the corn crop. One farmer said with his cotton, he won’t know (how it was affected) until he picks it in the fall. Peanuts look all right, but not so much for hay.”

Simon said farmers hope to get a hay cutting every five weeks during the summer.

“They got the first one, but not the second,” he said. “The good news is that there is some optimism from the recent rains. It looks like they might get a third, which is great.”

Supporting both McMillan’s and Simon’s concerns about the summer drought was Thursday’s crop acreage report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating that conditions for about one-third of Alabama’s leading crops range from poor to very poor. Only 27 percent are rated good or excellent, the report stated.

The Farm Services Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will assess the governor’s request and take action, which, in this case, would include providing emergency aid to farmers impacted by the drought. This can include low interest loans and certain types of direct assistance, including the SURE Disaster program.

“On the bright side, the USDA today reports that there are 50,500 additional acres planted this year versus 2010,” McMillan said.