Lingering Drought Takes Toll On Alabama Tree Farmers

Jimmy Parnell got a little rain today but it was too little, too late.

"Just a sprinkle," said Parnell.

And no where is that more clear than the story of a pine seedling that didn't make it on Parnell's land. You could tell it got a good start but its needles are burned and the stem is slumped over.

"It should be at least a foot-and-a-half," said Parnell.

The irony of all this is there has been enough moisture to keep the weeds alive and well but not enough for the majority of the seedlings that cover all of Parnell's 150 acres.

For Jimmy Parnell the on-going drought has been a double whammy. It has also sliced into his timber-cutting business.  It usually takes 25 years for a pine to mature but even the mature trees today are stressed and that opens the door to insects and disease.

And for those of us not in the timber business, Parnell is certain we'll feel the impact years from now.

"Homebuilders will notice this in a few years because we've been in a 3-year drought, and this year is the worse of the 3," said Parnell.

Jimmy Parnell is debating whether to replant in December or skip a year. Central Alabama is said to be 60 inches below normal rainfall over the last 3 years. An eternal optimist by nature, Parnell is still searching for the silver lining in what's become a very long dry-spell.

Parnell is a third generation farmer and he says he has no intentions of getting out of the business even though he's expected to lose tens of thousands of dollars this year. Parnell is not alone, however. 95% of Alabama forests are privately owned.