Eric Shavey wishes someone would paint a turtle on a parking lot somewhere in Alabama and do a rain dance.
“That’s what the Cherokee’s did, though not in a parking lot,” said Shavey, an expert in agronomic crops with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Limestone County.
He is only half joking.
With Limestone County — and much of the nation — enduring various degrees of drought, there is no good news for row crops like corn, soybeans and cotton.
The corn is officially roasted. Lack of rain through the corn-growing season forced plants to produce small ears — enough to enable the plant to reproduce but not the stuff needed to produce bin-busting yields.
“The corn is really hurting now,” Shavey said. “Some of it tasseled out and pollinated but it just didn’t get the water. It did not set a good ear, so there will be a lot of yield loss.”
The cotton crop is also at a critical stage.
“When you see cotton — which originated in the tropics — wilting, it’s dry,” he said.
As is the soybean crop. Beans, which were planted in April, are only 5 or 6 inches tall.
“If we got a rain, some of it would come back, if it can hold on until then,” Shavey said.
90 percent dry
The conditions parching Alabama now cover more than 90 percent of the state, with many metropolitan areas more than a foot below normal rainfall totals for the year, according to an analysis released Thursday and reported by the Associated Press.
The situation is worst in eastern Alabama, where all but a few counties are in a severe or extreme drought, according to the AP.
The latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows coastal southwest Alabama is the only section of the state not experiencing a large rainfall deficit.
Arid conditions are classified as exceptionally bad in parts of Barbour and Henry counties in the state's southeastern corner, where not even a blast of tropical weather would be enough to return rainfall totals to near normal, said John Christy, the state climatologist.
"It's a long-term drought, in that they never came out of it from last year,” said Christy, who works at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It's going to take not just one hurricane but three months of above-average rainfall to end that.”
In all, about 91 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or in a full-blown drought.
The National Weather Service in Huntsville predicts highs today through Sunday are expected to be in the middle to upper 90s, with scattered showers or thunderstorms possible each day.
Fruit and vegetable crops are holding their own, but only because farmers are irrigating those crops, said extension agent Lloyd Chapman, whose expertise is horticultural crops such as tomatoes and strawberries.
“The thing about horticulture is they are high-value crops, so farmers are going to spend money to irrigate those,” Chapman said. “We are trying to get more people to irrigate more than they have in the past as we have drought conditions more.”
For these farmers, irrigating is a must.
“An acre of corn may be worth $50 or $60 and an acre of strawberries may be worth $20,000 or $30,000,” Chapman said. “The value of the crop is so much greater, so they are going to irrigate.”