Wiregrass Crops in Trouble

Wiregrass farmers are busy planting crops, but they have to battle Mother Nature, who so far is not being very cooperative.

The month of May is considered one of the driest of the year and that's not good news, especially for farmers.

The lack of rain is once again proving to be a problem for them. Like many farmers, Jesse Scott says this year's planting season has been tough.

Scott says, "I was planting peanuts and cotton and I had to stop planting because I didn't have enough moisture in the ground to bring them up, so we're waiting on moisture right now to finish planting."

The lack of rain is forcing farmers in the Wiregrass to cut down or abandon cash crops they have relied on for years.

In the past two years, peanut production in the Wiregrass has been cut by almost 40 percent and farmers are feeling this drop in their wallets.

"Peanuts averaged last year from 800 to 3800 pounds per acre. We had the 3800 pounds contracted, which turned out to be somewhat profitable, but the 800 pounds will leave you a hole in the bag," says Scott

Wiregrass Research and Extension Center William Birdsong says, "Farmers once were receiving $600 to $650 per ton, and now it's in the $350 to $400 per ton range."

Experts attribute this drastic drop in peanut prices to a nationwide change in farm policy, where now neighboring countries can import the crop at a much lower price. That is forcing farmers to drop their prices to stay competitive.

Cotton production is also down, which is why farmers are turning to corn.

A crop that is in high demand because of the growing interest in ethanol as a more environmentally friendly source of fuel, but like cotton and peanuts, corn also needs a lot of water to plant and grow.

With little rain, the only other source of water would come from irrigation. Something that is scarce in Alabama.

"We're an irrigation deficient state and the lack of irrigation prohibits the amount of corn we can grow here in Alabama," says Birdsong.

State lawmakers are looking at the Alabama Irrigation Initiative to look at ways to expand irrigation pipes across the state, but until that happens, farmers say that diversifying their crops is the only way to make a buck.

Even though there hasn't been much rain recently, farmers say they don't expect to have another drought this year and they're optimistic their crops will be more profitable this time around.

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