Heavy rains in late October and early November doused harvest hopes for many Alabama farmers who already were facing low crop prices this fall.
With some Alabama counties recording more than 6 inches of rain in a few days, state officials began seeking assessments in mid-November to determine if a disaster declaration was applicable.
In a Nov. 12 letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley asked for help for Alabama farmers. His letter specifically asked for consideration for cotton, peanuts, pecans, soybeans and sweet potato farmers who had damaged crops.
“All of this damage will result in a loss of income to Alabama’s agricultural industry,” Bentley said in his letter. He asked for a disaster declaration for Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Macon, Pike and Russell counties.
Bentley’s letter also asked Vilsack to instruct USDA Alabama Farm Service Agency Director Daniel Robinson to assess damage throughout the state to determine the extent of agricultural losses.
Even if a disaster declaration is granted, it’s unclear what it would mean for affected farmers.
The farm bill, passed by Congress in 2014, sets policy for U.S. agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry programs. Instead of funding disaster assistance, the bill focused on crop insurance plans for farmers.
Carla Hornady of the Alabama Farmers Federation said USDA estimates Nov. 9 showed 32 percent of the state’s cotton was unpicked, while 20 percent of peanuts and about 30 percent of soybeans had not been harvested.
“Even if farmers could get their crops in, the quality has been compromised,” said Hornady, who is the Federation’s director for cotton, soybeans, and wheat and feed grains divisions. “We will work with farmers around the state to help assess damage and keep them abreast of any assistance that becomes available.”
In late summer, forecasters predicted one of the strongest El Niño climate phases in decades, and Auburn University scientists encouraged farmers to gather crops as early as possible.
“There are some crops that can’t be rushed,” Hornady said. “Farmers work long hours every fall to get their crops in, but when weather conditions won’t allow them to get in the field, there’s not much they can do.”