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Crops, livestock suffering from dry spell

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“We need Spencer County declared a drought area.” -Magistrate Bill Drury

By Robin Bass

Too little. Too late.

That’s what many local farmers have to say about this week’s rain forecast. The dry summer months have left their crops wilting in the fields – and as the harvest approaches, many of them doubt the yield will even be close to normal.

“We’re in a break even situation at best,” said Darrell Hardin, of Cox’s Creek.

Hardin farms 400 acres in the fertile flat lands that border the Salt River in Spencer County, and another 600 acres in neighboring Nelson County. As he walked through shoulder high corn rows last Thursday, Hardin said that normally the stalks would tower above his average frame. The ankle-deep soybeans would be shirt pocket high.

Hardin estimated that he would be able to harvest 75 bushels of corn and about 25 bushels of soybean per acre planted. Under average rain conditions, Hardin said the net production per acre would be nearly double.

“The corn is done, but if we get a good rain, the soybeans could be salvaged,” said Hardin. “Two and a half inches of good, slow rain would be wonderful.”

Weather forecasts by AccuWeather.com predict heavy rains at times through Friday with a possible total near three-quarters of an inch.

Crop farmers aren’t the only ones being affected by the recent dry spell. H. M. Neal, of Wakefield, said the lack of rain this summer has reduced his ability to feed his cattle.

“We are short on hay,” said Neal, who recently purchased a field of corn from another farmer just so he could feed his animals.

Normally, the cattleman would supply his herd of 700 with feed from fields he planted with corn and hay – but those crops have already been consumed and now Neal said he may be forced to sell more animals just to make ends meet.

Adding to the financial woes of a reduction in their harvest crops, farmers are also facing higher prices for fuel and the ever-increasing upfront costs for fertilizer and seed.

“Costs have doubled,” said Neal of the current year.

“And they are predicting (the costs) will double again next year,” said Hardin.

Unlike 2007 when prices for some crops went up, Hardin said he has watched corn and soybean continue to drop with the fall of oil prices.

“These farmers need help,” said Magistrate Bill Drury, after spending much of last week talking with area producers and visiting their fields.

During Monday morning’s fiscal court meeting, Drury handed over report comprised of testaments from a dozen local farmers, rain statistics and photographs of poorly performing crops. His hopes were to convince fellow magistrates that something must be done by the county leaders to help their plight.

“The problem is that we got so much rain early in the year,” said Spencer County Judge Executive David Jenkins. “We had too much of it early in the spring and none here lately.”

According to precipitation records collected at the Taylorsville Lake Corps of Engineers Visitor Center, the amount of rainfall from January through July was just over 33 inches – more than twice the amount recorded during the same period in 2007. While yearly rate appears to be on track for 2008, rainfall during the crucial plant growth stages of July and August was nearly an inch and a half lower than the same months in 2007. Record lows last year resulted in widespread drought conditions in Kentucky – a state that typically sees 46 inches of rainfall annually.

“Right now, help is a must for the losses this year,” said Drury. “We need Spencer County declared a drought area.”

Fiscal court responded Monday by passing the first reading of a resolution asking Governor Steve Breshear to officially declare Spencer County a drought area and thus allowing farmers to be eligible for disaster relief.

Spencer County Farm Bureau President John Crenshaw said his organization passed a similar resolution two weeks ago.

“It’s as dry this year as it was last year and there was disaster relief then,” said Crenshaw.

Jeanie Williams, county executive director for the Mt. Washington FSA Service Center, said her office has been monitoring “the situation under the national weather website on a weekly basis. As of last Thursday, Spencer and Bullitt counties are finally showing up as being under a moderate drought. Once we get to a moderate drought, that’s when we look into getting a declaration.”

“The county is doing their job,” said Williams, when it comes to getting help for farmers by making resolutions. The next step would be for the governor to send a drought declaration to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, who in turn requests a report of the situation from Williams.

“We have to look at crop damage. Then we look at how many people this is affecting,” said Williams, adding that the county must reveal a 30 percent loss of all crops to be considered.

Drawing from the resources of five different programs available through the 2008 Farm Bill, Williams and her staff will examine each request for drought relief on an individual basis to see if they qualify.

If farmers want to be eligible for disaster relief funds, should they become available, they will need to purchase an additional buy-in policy for CAT (Catastrophic) or Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program crops that they have an interest in, said Williams. Producers must be signed up in order to be eligible for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payment Program (SURE).

Despite what the future holds concerning drought declarations or weather patterns, many farmers say they will not give up.

“You have to have faith and keep on rolling because it’s all out of our control,” said Hardin. “I’m not complaining. I know that we are very blessed. We’ll survive. And if there’s anything left over at the end of the year, we will do it all again next year.”

In related news,

• fiscal court approved the first reading of an amendment to the occupational license fee ordinance that would exempt farmers from paying on net profits from farming operations. Farm employees, however, would still be subject to payroll tax.

• Fiscal court also discussed the possibility of renting the former jail, located behind the Spencer County Courthouse, to a private business owner.

• The 2009 Spencer County property tax rates were approved by fiscal court. Estimates are that 8,900 tax bills should be sent out to residents this October.

• Jenkins announced that Anisha Moore would be replacing Rodney Shields on the Spencer County Tourism Committee. Shields resigned due to a conflict with his work schedule.

Jenkins described Moore as having a marketing degree and as “a young person that will bring a lot to the table.”