The combination of scorching temperatures with little to no rain in sight has area farmers like Luker counting their losses this dry growing season.
“This is our livelihood,” Luker said. “It makes you draw on your faith more because that’s the only thing that can really get you through.”
Luker expects a 75 percent loss from his corn crop this season at Luker Family Farms in Talladega, making for only one-fourth of what could have been produced.
“You put as much effort and money into a disaster crop as you do a bumper crop,” Luker said. “When you see it all go down the drain, it’s disheartening.”
While many local residents are finding ways to beat the heat this summer with temperatures sizzling into triple digits, area farmers are now scrambling trying to make up for their losses and still provide for their families.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack has officially designated 33 Alabama counties as primary natural disaster areas, one of which being Talladega County.
All 33 designated counties have suffered from a “drought intensity value of at least D2 (Drought-Severe) for eight or more consecutive weeks or D3 (Drought-Extreme) or higher at any time during the growing season according to the U.S. Drought Monitor,” reads a letter from Vilsack to Gov. Robert Bentley.
In the letter Vilsack mentions an opportunity for farm operators to receive assistance from the Farm Service Agency in the form of emergency loans.
Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance.
But many farmers like Scott Pruitt have been farming for as long as they can remember, and the loss of another set of crops from yet another dry season has become all too familiar.
Scott Pruitt and his father Mack Pruitt run Pruitt Farms in Alpine and cultivate cotton, corn, cattle, and soy beans.
Pruitt Farms is expected to experience at least a 65 to 70 percent loss this year, with 100-plus degree temperatures especially making things tough on Scott Pruitt’s corn crops.
“It’s been terrible,” Pruitt said. “It’s one of the worst droughts we’ve had in several years.
“It’s going to affect all aspects, everything really. It’s going to make it tough to get through this year and pay all the bills. It’s going to make it real tough.”
Pruitt said that at night the crops usually rest when temperatures get below 70 degrees, but with hot temperatures in the county coming and staying throughout the night the crops cannot rest and ultimately become stressed.
“When you look at it, it looks like it’s been bleached because of the hot temperatures and lack of rainfall,” Pruitt said.
“Right now we’re getting into a little more critical state with the cotton. The corn has done all it’s going to do now but the cotton still has a chance if we get some rainfall the latter part of this month and in August.”
The few showers that have hit certain parts of the county recently will not counter much of the dry heat damage that has already been done but is certainly welcomed by farmers who believe that a little rain is better than no rain at all.
“I’m blessed to have a small percentage of my crop irrigated and that helps ease the blow,” Luker said.
“Our commodity prices are up this year so we would have had an opportunity to catch up from last year’s loss and get ahead next year. This would have been a good opportunity for farmers to profit from a good crop and eliminate their debt.
“There are opportunities there but that’s probably the most heartbreaking thing. It does weigh on you because weather and prices are not in your control.”
Luker said that the critical time for corn development was during this dry time; his corn and cotton crops are currently the most severely damaged.
His cotton crops are now in a cut-out phase where it has bloomed prematurely because of the dry weather.
“If you do get rainfall it won’t have enough time to develop before the first frost,” Luker said. “If you wait on the second crop of cotton the first would already be rotten, or you pick the first crop and miss the second.”
Luker said the one crop of his that still has time to respond to rain is soybeans because most of them have not gotten past the bloom stage.
“After last year it’s going to be difficult because we had a poor corn and cotton crop last year,” Luker said. “Corn and cotton make about two-thirds of what I plant this year so a hit on those is really going to mess up our overall year as far as crops go.
“But hopefully if we could get some rain on these soybeans. That would help us bear the loss on those two.”
For now, Luker plans to count his losses and salvage what he can from the dry season while looking forward into the spring season where he hopes to find a clean slate and fresh start.
“This is just the nature of farming; you’re going to have dry years and bad years. Your best bet is that it doesn’t happen back-to-back,” Luker said.
“It gets in your blood and when it gets bad you get down. A guy told me that you have to count your blessings and not your problems and that’s what you just have to do.”
Contact Aziza Jackson at email@example.com.