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Increasing Drought Conditions Threatens Economy

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 72% of the continental United States is classified as “abnormally dry” or worse.  Alabama is also starting to suffer, 91.5% of the state of Alabama is classified as abnormally dry.

The National Drought Mitigation Center classifies a rainfall shortage as “abnormally dry”, drought level 1, drought level 2, drought level 3, and drought level 4.  Four is the most severe level of drought.  Henry and Barbour Counties are already at category 4. Houston, Russell, Lee, Bullock, Chambers, Macon, Randolph, Clay, and Tallapoosa Counties are suffering from a level 3 drought.

Houston County Cattleman and Farmer, Richard Meadows, says that his family’s farm is already feeling the effects of the drought.  Typically, ranchers like Meadows feed hay in the winter and turn their cows out to green grass in early Spring.  This year there was not enough green grass so Meadows had to start feeding hay to the cows in May.  A couple of rains in June have allowed the Meadows to stop feeding hay, but this year’s hay harvest looks to be down unless the weather changes.  Richard, his wife Kathy; his brother, Glenn; his sister, Cindy; and their families work the farm (Meadows Creek Farm) together.  Their family has been farming the same Alabama land since the 1830s.

Mr. Meadows said that their farm is diversified.  They raise registered Charolais (a breed of cattle developed in France for their growth and muscle mass) beef bulls for other farms and ranches, beef cattle for consumers, as well as peanuts, small grains, and grain sorghum.  The small grains are grown in the winter on the ground that the peanuts and sorghum was harvested off of to protect the top soil.  Richard said that the peanuts and the grain sorghum are both drought tolerant but that they will need rain to actually produce a crop.  Richard said some peanut fields have been planted three times because the lack of moisture prevented the seeds from germinating.  Mr. Meadows said that the aquifer is too deep underneath the ground of his farm for it to be economical for them to irrigate.  The diesel used to operate pumps to get the water out of the ground and to the crops, hay fields, and pastures would cost more than they could make off of the crop.  Other farms in other parts of the area have shallower water tables so those farmers are irrigating.  Drought tolerance is why they grow grain sorghum instead of corn, which is much more susceptible to drought.

Richard said that it has been frustrating to see storms to his south that never quite got to their land.  One storm even got so close that severe lightning strikes killed one of his cows but the rain stopped just short.  Meadows hoped that Tropical Storm Debby would relieve the drought but it stalled out on the Coast.  Mr. Meadows said that they have had to be very cautious about working with the cattle in the extreme heat because hot cattle get stressed easily and could die.  Meadows is also worried

The ‘Drover’s Journal’ is reporting that some meteorologists are already comparing this year to the drought of 1988, which was estimated to cost American agriculture $78 billion.  Since commodity prices are much higher now than they were then IF the same weather conditions develop that the country experienced then the total losses will be far higher.

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A week ago the USDA rated 63 percent of the U.S. corn crop as good or better. This week they lowered that estimate to 56%.  ‘Drover’s Journal’ is reporting that crop scientists “say the crop is deteriorating rapidly”.  Corn futures increased by a $1.50 a bushel last week on the bad news.

The National Drought Mitigation Center is reporting that Colorado is the worst hit state thus far.  Every acre of Colorado is in a level one drought or worse with 71% of the state facing a level 3 drought or worse.  100% of Kansas is abnormally dry with 97.8% in level one drought conditions and 28.8% in level three drought conditions.  99.8% of Nebraska is classified as abnormally dry with 77% in a level one drought or worse. 96% of South Dakota is abnormally dry with drought conditions in almost half of the state.  97.3% of Texas is abnormally dry with 76.8% in drought conditions.  100% of Arkansas is classed as abnormally dry this year with 98.9% facing drought conditions and 36% in level three drought conditions.  99.7% of Oklahoma is abnormally dry with 61% of that state in drought conditions.  96.2% of Tennessee is abnormally dry with 64.7% in a level 2 drought or worse.  86.2% of the state of Georgia is facing at least abnormally dry conditions while 20% of the state is in a level four drought.   The widespread number of droughts could make it very difficult for farms in one state to get the hay that they need this year by importing it from other states.

Much of the best peanut ground in the world is among the hardest hit counties of Alabama and Georgia.  ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ asked Richard Meadows if this was the time for consumers to start stockpiling peanut butter.  He thought that enough ground was planted in peanuts this year due to high prices last year that consumers should not be facing a shortage yet.

While most Americans do not work in agriculture, American agriculture creates many more jobs in trucking, ports, food processing, and related fields.  The U.S. produces 50% of the grains that are sold on the global grain market making the possibility of a potentially subpar harvest felt globally

To follow the drought conditions nationally or on a region by region or state by state basis:

To learn more about Meadows Creek Farm visit their website

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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