THOMASVILLE — Current drought conditions are having drastic effect on local agriculture.

A local official said only about half of this year’s planted crops will go to market due to severe rain deficits this summer.

University of Georgia Extension Service Director Don Clark said that recent showers have helped some crops in Thomas County. They have not been enough to sustain all local farmlands, however.

“From one field to the next, it’s a totally different scenario. There are some fields in the county that, right now, have good moisture because they got a three-inch rain,” Clark said. “But you can drive a quarter-mile from there and find one that’s still suffering from the dry weather.”

Crops planted earlier in the season are faring worse because of little to no rainfall from May through July. And even if later-planted crops flourish toward the end of the season, Clark said cotton, corn, soybean, pecan and other crop yields will be cut tremendously.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked for a federal disaster declaration due to drought conditions in all parts of the state. State Sen. John Bulloch said the declaration, if approved, would provide certain benefit to state and local farmers.

“There’s no grant money directly involved in this, but it gives farmers opportunities to get low-interest loans because of the dry weather and losses,” he said

Counties in the southwest region of the state have been particularly harmed by the lack of rain, Bulloch said.

“We’ve really got some production reduction in cotton, corn and pecans. It’s yet to be seen how much hurt has really been done,” he said.

Bulloch said area farmers are having a hard time adapting to this year’s persistent drought.

“With the amount of annual rainfall we have in South Georgia, North Florida and South Alabama, we normally can make a good crop with almost no supplemental water or irrigation,” he said. “But with the shortage in rain this year, you just can’t adapt to this kind of shortfall. For May, June and early July, we had almost no rain.”

To cope with the lack of adequate rainfall, more farmers have turned to irrigation to nourish their crops. However, many counties and farmers don’t have access to adequate surface water to feed irrigation systems, and those who do run the risk of depleting those resources.

What’s more, running irrigation in the absence of adequate rainfall can put serious restraints on a farmer’s budget. Clark estimated the cost of irrigating one acre of land with one inch of water costs between $21 to $25.

Most crops need a bare minimum of one inch of water per week. During a farming season with abundant rains, Clark said a farmer might run his irrigation system three times. This year, with an estimated 12-inch rain deficit, some farmers have run irrigation 15 to 18 times to keep crops healthy.

“We have to really evaluate crops like corn — is that corn crop worth what it costs to make a good yield? Irrigation is good, but with fuel costs like we are facing today, it’s very expensive,” Clark said.

To contact reporter Brewer Turley, call (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.

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