October 2006
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Commissioner Sparks Seeking Drought Relief for State’s Farmers

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, Ron Sparks, told farmers and cotton gin operators in north Alabama, “All this summer, from north to the south, all Alabama has seen is heat and drying winds. It’s probably the worst drought we’ve had in 30 or 40 years. If farmers don’t get some help (from the federal government) this year, we can only expect rougher times ahead.”

He said that twice as many calves have been sold in the state as were sold this time last year. “People are getting rid of their calves at about 150 to 200 pounds lighter than normal because they don’t have enough to feed them. All across the state there are burned up crops and pastures.” He estimated that 90% of the corn and peanuts and 70% of the cotton crop is a loss with the southeastern part of the state being hit the worst.

The U.S. Senate in May approved an emergency appropriations bill including $4 billion in agriculture disaster relief for farmers and ranchers struggling with weather-related problems and high energy costs.

In late August, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that $780 million in federal aid is available to help farmers and ranchers manage drought and weather-related production challenges. This funding includes a new $50 million program for livestock producers impacted by drought, focusing nearly $30 million in unused conservation funds on drought and accelerating the delivery of an estimated $700 million in counter-cyclical payments.

Sparks said that he was recently in Washington, D.C. and plans to work with the state’s congressional delegation to insure that the U.S. House passes an agriculture disaster package. “We’ve got to work hard to get this disaster package through Congress and hopefully get (farmers) some assistance. We need to get it passed by no later than the 1st of November,” Sparks said.

Sparks is concerned about the decreasing number of family farms in Alabama, a state in which agriculture is the No. 1 industry. Since the 1950s, the number of Alabama farms has dropped from around 250,000 to about 45,000, he said.

“We don’t need to lose anymore farms,” he said. “We don’t need other countries feeding us.”