Farmers fight drought conditions

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Local farmers and an Alabama climatologist are closely monitoring what has become an adage for Alabama summers: “It’s not just the heat. It’s a dry heat.”

According to John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, as May ended and June began, the Southeastern U.S. was locked under an intense, warm high-pressure system that brought record or near record temperatures to Alabama cities.

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“As summer approaches and the general pattern shifts northward, the drought that developed this winter and spring in south Alabama is now in the ‘Extreme’ category…” he said. “Statewide rainfall averaged about one-third of normal in May…”

Marengo County Extension Coordinator Kathryn Friday said local farmers are already feeling the grips of a lack of rain.

“The plants are stressed,” she said. “Unless farmers get rain soon, it’s going to create some problems.”

Many catfish farmers are already running aerators and Friday said some backyard farmers may see a significant dip in yield this year.

“People with home garden with tomatoes, those tomatoes aren’t going to set fruit now,” she said. “They may not flower.”

A side effect of a lack of water has been the onset of disease. Friday noted that stressed plants are more susceptible to fruit and flower-robbing disease. Concern also lies with local cattle farmers who are likely close to running out of hay.

“The ones who have cut probably don’t have enough growth to cut again right now,” she said.

Landowners are also concerned as the risk of forrest fires increases.

“It’s going to take a good 2-inches of rain,” Friday said of what was needed in relief.

“And we don’t want that all at once. What we need is a good two days of steady rain.”

“We are watching this situation closely because it is quite serious,” Christy added. “In somewhat of an irony, we’ve missed out on tropical storms for five years now. It could well be our turn for a drought-quenching but property-damaging hurricane.”

Currently, about 67 percent of Alabama is experiencing conditions from abnormally dry to extreme drought.

Last week, only 48 percent of the state was under these conditions, and last year, none of the state was experiencing drought conditions.

As of Tuesday, there is no significant chance of rain forecast for the next seven days.