The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

News

September 18, 2006

Limestone declared disaster

Drought this summer has destroyed much of crops

Madison-Limestone Extension Service Agent Mark Hall calls Limestone’s cotton crop “the worst I’ve seen in my career.”

Hall came to the extension service in 1978.

On August 31, Limestone was among 19 counties to be designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “primary natural disaster areas” due to drought conditions and high temperatures, beginning in early January. This latest declaration adds the 19 counties to 48 designated as disaster areas on June 30, now affecting every county in the state.

The decision makes all qualified farm operators in the state eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

“It’s turning out that we’re gathering less even than what’s out there,” said Hall. “It’s just far worse than it looks.”

Hall said the plants are much shorter, in many cases just half as tall as a usual stand, so it is hard for the picker to harvest the crop.

Hall said he could not say how this year’s crop yield will be. The average yield is 700-plus pounds per acre, he said.

“It’s bad everywhere, especially in the south part,” he said.

Hall said crops fared especially poorly in the southwest part of the county near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.

“The best cotton is in the north part of the county,” he said. “It’s better, but still really bad.”

Farmers have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses, according to a press release from Dana Hester, FSA loan officer in Moulton. “FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability,” said Hester. “FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover.”

USDA has also made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance, and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility and application procedures, or visit online disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

The local FSA office may be contacted at 232-4025.

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