Drought Takes Toll in Tennessee
Tennessee farmers are struggling to recover from a summer drought that has cut the state soybean crop nearly in half and severely damaged the yields of cotton, hay and tobacco.
``I think there's lots of experts who feel, unfortunately, we'll probably lose as many as 10 percent of our farmers this year, mainly because of economics,'' said Gene Danekas, Tennessee statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The farmers want to work, but many lenders will probably turn them down for loans, he said Thursday.
This summer produced one of Tennessee's two worst soybean crops since 1956. Based on yield predictions for the season, summer harvests are estimated at 17 bushels per acre, compared to an average of about 32 bushels.
Some crops were so poor, farmers simply abandoned them, Danekas said, leaving about 100,000 soybean acres unharvested, many cutting their crops for hay.
Cotton yields are also low -- less than a bale an acre, down from an average of about a bale and a quarter.
Hay and tobacco yields are also down, but not devastated. Most corn and wheat crops were harvested before the drought and suffered little damage, Danekas said
The drought not only left farmers with less soybeans and cotton to sell, it also hurt the quality of the crops they had left, Danekas said.
Tennessee farmers were already suffering from a second straight year of low farm prices, due to an oversupply of crops from the Midwest, which was not affected by the drought.
``There were a lot of farmers who were sort of on the edge financially, and this was sort of a make or break year,'' said John Bartee, extension leader in Montgomery County for the University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Service.
``I call it a 'double whammy' we got,'' Bartee said. ``Low prices and low yields both. It's unusual.''
The drought has been particularly bad in West Tennessee. Andy Sniezak, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said last summer was the 23rd driest in Memphis since 1872.
The drought prompted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to declare Tennessee a disaster area in September. The designation makes farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency.
That may help in the short term, said Daryll Ray, director of the Agriculture Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, but farmers need more than loans in the long term.
``For the nation as a whole, drought is not the problem,'' according to Ray, who says farmers will face low prices as long as crops are in too much supply.
``The last thing a bankrupt person needs is another loan,'' Bartee said
He said he expects up to 60 farmers to be out of business in the Montgomery County -- one of the state's biggest agricultural producers -- due to the drought.
``It's pretty devastating if you're a farmer. You've been on that land. You're a third generation. You've been doing your best, and you're looking at having to give it all up,'' he said.