Weather continues to wreak havoc around the South

Wildfires in drought-stricken areas of the South have forced evacuations in Florida and the largest ever wildfire in Georgia, which has consumed more than 100,000 acres, is still burning. Firefighting efforts are being hampered by low humidity and high winds.

The drought and the Easter Freeze are also affecting crops and livestock, according to the latest USDA farm reports.

• In Florida, "Hay growth is very limited with supplies very short. Volusia County feed stores are rationing hay only to existing customers. Soil moisture supplies were rated very short to mostly short in the Panhandle, Big Bend, and southern Peninsula areas. Soil moisture remained very short over the central Peninsula."

• In Alabama, "Drought conditions throughout Alabama continue to worsen. There are many locations that have reached precipitation deficits greater than 10 inches since the beginning of the year, with some nearing a 20 inch deficit over the past 14 months. Extreme drought conditions have enveloped much of the northern part of the state, while severe drought conditions continue to move south." 33% of corn and 43% of winter wheat crops are reported as "poor" or "very poor."

• In Arkansas, "Some producers were harvesting their freeze damaged winter wheat crop for hay. With continued pasture and range condition improvements, livestock remained in fair to good condition." 56% of the winter wheat crop is reported as "poor" or "very poor."

• In Kentucky, "Fifty-four percent of the winter wheat crop had headed, still well behind last year's 81 percent and the five-year average of 61 percent. The crop is still in very poor condition with seventy-four percent rated poor or very poor. Of the crop left in the field, producers expect greatly reduced yields."

• In North Carolina, "Another week of above normal temperatures dominated the State. Highs ranged from 84 to 94 degrees. [..]Statewide, soil moisture levels are rated at 5% very short, 53% short, 39% adequate, and 3% surplus." 81% of the apple crop, 65% of barley, 64% of rye, and 96% of the peach crop is reported as "poor" or "very poor."

• In South Carolina, 75% of the apple crop, 60% of cucumbers, 93% of peaches, and 61% of winter wheat is reported as "poor" or "very poor".

• in Tennessee, "The State's fruit trees continued to digress as virtually the entire peach crop was rated in very poor condition, while three-fourths of apples were rated in this worst category. Cattle were rated in mostly good-to-fair condition with some cattlemen concerned about declining herd conditions due to poor pastures and hay shortages."

• Georgia appears hardest hit: "Lingering drought conditions continued to have a negative impact on crops, hayfields, and pastures. Farmers desperately needed rain to help crops recover from dry weather and freeze damage. Small grains production has been severely affected by the drought. Pastures and hayfields were not growing. Some cattle producers have been forced to begin reducing their herd. Freeze damaged grass and small grains were being harvested for hay to feed starving livestock. Planting of dryland crops has come to a standstill due to the lack of soil moisture." 65% of range and pasture land, 97% of apple crops, 61% of hay, and 87% of peach crops are reported as "poor" or "very poor".

Comments from farm districts around the state indicate a dire situation.

"We're still in desperate need of rainfall to help pastures and crops to recover from dry weather and freeze damaged condition."

"Small grain production has been severely affected by the dry weather; pastures and hayfields are not growing at all; cattle producers have no hay and some have been forced to begin herd reductions."

"Rolled some fescue hay and folks are lining up to purchase it...every bale of anything is moving...folks are chasing the growers down the road to buy it..."

"The drought has begun to have some serious effects on us. We are starting to reach a critical point in terms of pasture rejuvenation and hay production. Most of our spring planting has screeched to a halt. It's looking very bad."

"Normal planting of cotton and peanuts has ceased. Waiting for rain. Some are baling small grains for hay to feed starving cattle and goats. Hay reserves are almost exhausted and cattle need feed."

"Forest fires are a major concern. We are fighting about a 5000 acre forest fire in Kirkland at the Roundabout. Lost various ages of timber. Drought is making forest fires worst and is hurting farmers. Between the freeze, wind, drought and fire, we are in a disaster situation."

Around the South, crop damage from the Easter Freeze is still being assessed. In Arkansas, a state of emergency has been declared in 52 counties. North Carolina agriculture officials put the state's loss at over $111 million, and it could be more. In Tennessee, the Governor has requested the federal government to declare an agricultural disaster in all 95 counties.

One might naturally begin to wonder if all of this will lead to shortages or increase our reliance on imported fruits and vegetables. Recent revelations that only 1.3% of imported fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods are inspected do not make that prospect very appealing, especially when this small number of inspections frequently finds food not fit for human consumption.

And hurricane season is just around the corner...