Valdosta Daily Times


May 19, 2007

Losses likely to be in the millions after drought

VALDOSTA — South Georgia farmers are facing a devastating financial hit after losing millions in the April cold snap and facing millions more in losses from what some are calling the worst drought in recent memory.

Critical filing deadlines for reporting individual situations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) are approaching. Local FSA officials are urging farmers to come into their offices in Valdosta to file necessary paperwork so they can qualify for potential federal disaster relief or for preventive planting recovery.

The local FSA office, headed by County Executive Director Terrie Wolford, covers a four-county area that includes Lowndes, Echols, Lanier and Clinch counties.

Wolford said financial losses to area growers from the cold snap and freeze that struck over Easter weekend, April 7-9, are estimated at more than $20 million. Farmers responding to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s request for loss estimates after the freeze reported losses in 137 of 159 counties.

The accompanying one-two punch of the drought will add another devastating financial hit to farmers that could negatively impact area agriculture for years to come, Wolford said.

Unless they have expensive irrigation equipment and the money to pay for fuel to power it, farmers have not been able to plant corn, peanuts, cotton, tobacco, wheat, fruit or hay, and windows for getting spring planting done are rapidly closing.

Wolford says growers in the FSA’s local region estimate that they’ve already lost between 35 percent to 90 percent of crops for 2007 from the drought. At an emergency meeting of the FSA’s emergency board May 4, members estimated that the four-county area is between 20-25 inches below normal rainfall counts by this time of year, and Clinch County had lost 3,000 acres of timberland to the wildfires, Wolford said.

“This is the worst drought I have seen in my 20 years with FSA,” said Wolford, who is a Lanier County native. “I know Lowndes County is developing, but agriculture is what we thrive on in South Georgia. The drought isn’t just affecting farmers. It will affect you and me, too, at the grocery store and elsewhere.”

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