AL cattlemen gather for board meeting, discuss drought impact

Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 at 5:26 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Nearly 80 cattlemen from around Alabama gathered in Montgomery Thursday for an Alabama Cattlemen's Association board meeting.

More than 40 counties were represented, including northeastern counties like Jackson and Limestone County where drought conditions have taken the hardest toll.

Gerald Wininger, a farmer in Jackson County, said his area is one of the hardest hit drought areas in the state. Despite experiencing drought conditions since May, Wininger said there is still water on his property but the supply is drying up.

"There is water is still in our spring," Wininger said. "It's quit running, though, none is running out. Our pastures are also completely burnt up."

Farmers in this area said their main priorities right now are finding alternative feed and water supplies. However, transportation costs for bringing in hay from other states and the cost of pumping in county or city water adds up.

Dr. Billy Powell, executive director for the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, said the drought moves further south and west with each day without rain.

Mike Dee, a calf farmer in west Alabama's Pickens County, said he had a little more time to prepare for the drought. However, now that it's here, he has already had to make some changes.

"We've lined up some extra feed for the winter to help get our cow herd through the winter," Dee said. "We have some sold off some cattle we would normally keep because we don't have the grazing for them."

Dee said, even with rain, the cooler months make it nearly impossible to grow grass.

According to Powell, the association had a successful budget meeting on Wednesday night. He said the group met with climatologists, and they are not expecting enough rain to come in the foreseeable future to fix the situation.

The group expects many farmers in the northern part of Alabama will have to sell herds if they don't get substantial rain by Christmas. While this will bring in funds for now, he said this will be bad for the long-term recovery because beef production is cyclical, with each cycle taking about 9 months. Selling a herd of calves, would drastically disrupt that cycle.

"It's not just decimating the cow industry in Alabama, it's going to devastate us if we don't get some relief at some point in time," Dee said.

John McMillan, the Alabama commissioner of agriculture and industries, released a statement that said the Alabama Department of Agriculture is working to connect hay producers and livestock producers via a public hay directory housed on the department's website.

The department is also helping producers figure out which federal assistance programs they are eligible for.

Walda Malone, with the Farm Service Agency, said the group has already begun releasing aid funds to farmers in need throughout the state.

"We've taken over 5,000 livestock feed applications thus far state," Malone said. "We have appointments booked in county offices through December."

While there is a $125,000 limit for each farmer who qualified, Malone said the agency will help all of the farmers who need help. She said funds run out, the group will go to congress to fight for more.

"We will continue to take applications and make payments," Malone said.

Along with federal agencies, the state department said it is working with the governor's office to monitor drought conditions.

According to the governor's office, Gov. Robert Bentley is not planning to issue a state of emergency in response to the drought. The office said there are a number of things that factor into that decision, and that conditions will be continuously monitored until they improve.

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