As if to add insult to injury, a continuing drought in the lower Southeast was made worse in mid- to late-August by more than 10 consecutive days of high temperatures reaching 100 degrees F. and more.
All-time records were set in some areas, including 106 in central Alabama and 108 in southeast Georgia.
Some parts of Alabama and Georgia are enduring a Level 4 drought, which is the worst drought possible. “Alabama has never seen a Level 4 drought before,” says Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks. “We have been as bad you can get in Alabama for several months now.”
Sparks predicted in August that losses for Alabama farmers this year will total an estimated $225 million for row crops and $36 million for livestock and forage. But the total economic impact, he says, will be more than $1.2 billion.
The historic heat wave brought frequent temperatures near 100 degrees F. as far north as the Southern Corn Belt, while impressive strings of triple-digit heat were reported farther south. As a result of the intense heat and minimal rainfall — along with severe stress on pastures, livestock, and immature summer crops — all categories of drought were broadly expanded across the Southeast and the lower Midwest.
Two areas of exceptional or Level 4 drought were joined, leaving a continuous swath stretching from Tennessee through Alabama and western Georgia.
Crop conditions continued to deteriorate due to the scorching heat and drought. In Alabama, 54 percent of the state's cotton crop was rated in poor or very poor condition and 37 percent of the state's peanut crop and 67 percent of the pasture and forage land were in poor to very poor condition.
But the crop in worst condition is corn, with 78 percent rated in poor or very poor condition. Some of the corn crop had to be harvested earlier than normal because it began drying down.
In Georgia, where more cropland is irrigated, 35 percent of the corn was in poor to very poor condition, 15 percent of the cotton, 13 percent of the peanuts and 13 percent of the soybeans.
In mid-August, USDA announced it would provide funds in Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) cost-share assistance to some of the areas affected by drought.
“This announcement that USDA will provide $1 million in ECP cost-share assistance to farmers in 28 Alabama counties hit hard by the drought is welcomed news. We appreciate the persistence of Alabama's congressional delegation in requesting disaster funding for the state,” says Jerry A. Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
ECP provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought.
Farm Service Agency county committees determine land eligibility based on on-site inspections of damage, taking into account the type and extent of damage.
Alabama is among 18 states that will share $16 million in new ECP funding. The state's portion of the appropriation is $1,049,300, which is earmarked for eligible conservation practices related to the drought. Other states received funding based on floods, tornados, freeze damage, landslides and ice storms.
Alabama counties selected by the FSA for ECP funding are: Barbour, Blount, Bullock, Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Dale, Elmore, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Henry, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Marion, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Walker and Winston.
While this money will provide help to replant scorched pastures and provide water for cattle, more assistance is needed in these counties and throughout the state, says Newby.
“The 100-year drought and record-high temperatures have affected every sector of our farm economy and every county in the state. We will continue to work with our senators and congressmen to secure additional help for farmers, who we all depend on for food, fiber, timber and fuel,” he says.
In early July, all 67 Alabama counties were designated as natural disaster areas due to agricultural damage from the effects of drought. Later in July, 149 Georgia counties were declared primary disaster areas and nine more as contiguous disaster areas.
“Although a Secretarial Disaster Designation only enables farmers in qualifying counties to apply for emergency loan assistance from the Farm Service Agency, this action will help at least some of our farmers cope with the losses they have incurred due to the ongoing drought,” says Tommy Irvin, Georgia's commissioner of agriculture.
Once a county receives a disaster designation, all farmers in the county become eligible to apply to the USDA Farm Service Agency for low-interest emergency loans. Although all farmers are eligible to apply, they do not automatically qualify for the loans. Each farmer must meet individual eligibility requirements.