Heavy rain during peak harvest times in south central Alabama and the Wiregrass has prompted Gov. Robert Bentley to ask for an assessment to determine whether area counties qualify for federal disaster assistance.
According to news reports, Bentley sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Thursday requesting a formal damage assessment for the counties of Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Macon, Pike and Russell.
Bentley indicated in the letter that cotton, peanuts, pecans, soybeans and sweet potatoes were all negatively impacted because a percentage of the crops remain in the field and are unable to be harvested due to the saturated soil.
“All of this damage will result in a loss of income to Alabama’s agricultural industry,” Bentley wrote in the letter to Vilsack.
State Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb) said she and Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan) had been working with the governor to inform him of crop conditions in the Wiregrass.
Coffee County farmer Carl Sanders said the amount of harvest remaining in the fields varies from farmer to farmer. But Sanders, a peanut farmer, said a pretty significant percentage remains.
“The weather is not cooperating,” Sanders said. “We need a lot of sunshine and a nice breeze. I think it would certainly help to get an assessment done.”
Rainfall amounts could vary greatly from county to county, but Dothan has received a total of 6.01 inches of rain so far in November. In what may be more significant for farmers, Dothan has received a measurable amount of rain in eight of the first 12 days of November and six of the last seven days of October.
Allen Barrentine, manager of Wiregrass Gin in Taylor and a peanut farmer himself, said the heavy rain not only keeps farmers out of the field, but diminishes the value of any peanuts that could be harvested.
“It really lowers the quality of the peanut and the farmers take a serious hit on the value,” Barrentine said. “What really hurt was last week after we got a lot of rain and then the sun came out and it was 80 and 85 degrees. The peanuts were so saturated with water that a lot of the ones above the ground sprouted.
“I would guess there could be 30 or 35 percent still out there. It’s pretty bad. A lot of the peanuts out there look like we’ve had two or three frosts on them already,” Barrentine added.
The purpose of a damage assessment is to determine the extent of agricultural losses to date related to weather. If the area receives a declaration, farmers affected could be reimbursed for a portion of their losses.
Sanders said the outlook for crops was promising earlier in the year. However, dry weather came at the wrong time. Then, rain came at the wrong time.
“We had a pretty crop on my farm in July and early August,” Sanders said. “We had very little rain in August and September until right at the end of September and it just turned bad.”