The fallout from drought

The scarcity of rainfall in Morgan and other north central and northeastern counties in Alabama has created extreme drought conditions since midsummer and left farmers and other landowners in a world of hurt.

Cattle farmers are suffering from the lack of fall hay crops and parched grass in their pastures. Many are already feeding hay they harvested last spring and facing the likelihood of having to purchase hay from distant locations to get their livestock through the winter. Some could be forced to sell out or reduce their herds to cope with the emergency.

Row crop farmers without irrigation suffered reduced yields in their corn and soybean crops and delayed planting winter wheat because there was not enough moisture in the ground to germinate the seed.

When dry conditions became a topic of conversation early last summer Morgan County Extension manager Mike Reeves reported that growing plants need one inch of water per week in order to thrive. Scattered showers were the order of the day at that time, giving temporary relief in one community while leaving other nearby communities bone dry.

“In this area, seven days without rain is all it takes to create a drought,” he pointed out. Unfortunately, Morgan County had endured several weeks running without that much rain.

Farmers are not the only ones suffering from the drought. You can see the damage in the landscapes of urban homeowners.  Grass and shrubbery that wasn’t watered turned brown and became dormant well ahead of cool weather. Shade trees turned brown instead of their usual, red and orange and run the risk of dying.

Bone-dry conditions also put woodlands and fields at risk of being destroyed or damaged by wildfires.

Evidence of that was the cloud of smoke and haze that enveloped Hartselle and other North Alabama communities on Sunday. The smoke was drifting westward from uncontrolled wildfires in the hills and mountains of northeast Alabama and North Georgia.

Meteorologists are saying drought conditions could linger through 2016. My hope is that rain will come sooner than later.

Clif Knight is a staff writer emeritus for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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