Tenn. Drought Extends Hardships on Farmers After Easter Freeze

June 12, 2007

A double whammy in the form of a sudden freeze followed by drought conditions has hit farms in Tennessee hard, according to agricultural officials.

A line of thunderstorms last week wasn’t enough to alleviate the arid conditions.

Rainfall in Middle Tennessee is about 9 inches below normal, indicating a moderate to severe drought, according to meteorologists.

“This is probably one of the worst years ever with the double whammy of the freeze and the dry weather,” said Ken Givens, the state’s agriculture commissioner.

On Joe Freeman’s farm east of Portland, most of the 3-acre field of tobacco is wilted from a week of 90-degree heat and little rainfall.

“This one right here, he’s like me,” said Freeman, pulling out a yellowed plant. “He’s done over the hill. He ain’t got no root to him.”

Farmers like Freeman must decide whether to irrigate or wait for more rain to plant. And as the days tick off the calendar, time is short.

A wet summer could save farmers, but preliminary estimates show a lot of damage to the season’s first major crop, winter wheat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Tennessee’s winter wheat yield will be the lowest since 1991. The harvest could be half of last year’s record yield, which brought in about $42.6 million.

An unseasonably warm March that had many farmers planting early turned disastrous when temperatures plummeted to as low as 23 degrees in Nashville on April 8, a record for that date.

“It’s been a terrible, terrible year,” said Sam Forbes, a third-generation farmer in Wilson County. “I can remember 65, 70 years, and we never had a cold spell like we had in April.”

The first six months of 2007 is on pace to be among the five driest ever recorded in Middle Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service.

“I think these next two or three weeks are going to be critical,” said Delton Gerloff, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

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