Jackson County Times

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jackson County Officials Seek Disaster Declaration For Crops in Drought

Least amount of rainfall for August 2010 in 58 years of recordings—0.83 inches

It’s not official but local farmers and agriculture officials are calling this the worst drought in 30 years. Officially, Jackson County is still in an “abnormally dry” period, not a D1, D2 or D3 drought, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Local officials think that may change when reports are recorded and updated. “This August was the lowest recorded rainfall we have had for August in 58 years,” County Extension Director Doug Mayo said Monday. The rainfall locally for August was 0.84 inches, down 4.26 inches from the monthly average rainfall (1952-2010) of 5.10 inches. The research station in Greenwood began recording rainfall levels in 1952.

“For the year, we are down -9.42 inches below average,” Mayo said. “From June 1 through September 10 (102 days) we have had 72 days of temperatures 95 degrees F or higher.” Mayo asked Sally Phillips of the local Farm Service Agency to declare Jackson County a disaster area. “We did not get the rain we hoped for this weekend,” Mayo said. “There has not been more than 0.1 inches of rain recorded at the station since August 21. With the high temperatures and the combination of below normal rainfall, I fear greatly reduced forage, peanut and cotton yields for this production year. Current forecasts do not offer much relief in the near future.”

The Farm Service Agency authorizes low-interest loans in a disaster, but the agency may need much more data before making a declaration. Phillips said she is unable to speak to the media on this yet, due to policy, but extension agent Charles Brasher confirmed, and reported to the TIMES, that the FSA needs to have documentation showing at least 35 percent crop losses. Also, the NOAA Drought Monitor is used to record D1 droughts for eight straight weeks before some disasters are declared. The monitor, as of September 7, shows the county to be nearing D1, but currently at “abnormally dry.” The counties in Alabama and Georgia that border Jackson County to the north are classified as D1 drought and have been so listed for several weeks. This map and data can be viewed at www.drought.unl.edu/dm/DM_southeast.htm. Assistance may still be available to farmers after the growing season, but financial, or “revenue-based” losses must be documented, Brasher said.

Michael Davis of the Lovewood/Richter Crossroads community, north of Cottondale, whose family grows 6,500 acres of peanuts and cotton, has made his own declaration. “We ARE in a drought,” Davis told the TIMES Tuesday morning. “We are mowing down cotton that hasn’t been harvested and we can’t pull the peanuts out of the ground because the ground is too hard. This is the worst dry period since 1980. We’ll have a significant loss on both crops.”

Davis has tractors, inverters and cotton harvesters sitting idle, along with many of his 14 employees. “This field that has been producing 2 bales per acre (1,000 pounds) gave us roughly 100 pounds an acre,” he said. His growing areas have been experiencing drought since the middle of June. Rainfall in August should have been about 5.10 inches; it was 0.84. In July, rainfall should have been about 6.14; it was 2.31 inches. In June, the average is 4.93 inches; this year it was 2.92. In May, the rainfall recorded in Greenwood was above average. The May average is 3.65 inches; this year it was 5.09 inches. Even in the drought years of 1990 and 1980, Greenwood recorded August totals of 2.91 and 2.53 inches, respectively.

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