AUBURN, Ala.—The late-season drought that seized much of Alabama’s crop and pastureland late in 2016 is causing issues for producers in the new year.
Though substantial amounts of rain have fallen since nearly 100 percent of the state was battling extreme drought, more than 70 percent of the state is still fighting drought conditions. Winter annual grasses took a heavy blow, affecting cattle and crop producers statewide.
Planting Delayed Amidst Risk of Crop Failure
North Alabama regional Extension agent, Alex Tigue, said the situation with winter annual grasses is somewhat uncharted territory for many producers.
“The late season drought caused many farmers in the state to either delay planting winter grazing or completely forgo planting because of the risk of stand failure,” Tigue said.
He said grazing planted as late as Thanksgiving seems to be growing just fine, and other farmers who planted in September and October saw grasses emerge once rain began.
In addition to the successful crops on the upswing, Tigue said there have been some complete crop failures.
Producers Still Purchasing Hay, Looking Forward to Spring
Despite heavy rains near Christmas, grazing stands are still slow to grow. While some farmers have been able to utilize planted winter grazing others have not, as it was slow to emerge.
Colbert County Extension Coordinator Danny McWilliams, said many producers he has spoken with are hurting.
“Most producers are very short on hay; most are feeding,” McWilliams said. “Many have spent a great amount of money on feed. Everyone believes that this will continue until the first of April, with the hopes of the groundhog giving us some good news on Groundhog Day.”
Many farmers are still heavily feeding hay and supplementing with soyhull pellets or cotton byproducts, despite recent mild temperatures.
Tigue said most cattle producers in Northwest Alabama have been low or short on hay at some point this season. Hay has been purchased from all over the Southeast—from Kentucky to Florida.
“These producers were all faced with the same decision: sell cattle or buy feed,” Tigue said. “Many of them have sold cattle or are going to sell some to reduce the need for additional hay and feed.”
McWilliams said many producers are doing what is necessary to survive. He said experienced farmers and producers are returning to tried and true, old-school ways of profitability in the cattle business.
Both Tigue and McWilliams said row crop producers are making planting decisions with minimal risks. Producers are planting crops that have been successful in the past, with confidence in making a small profit.