By JACK WEATHERLY
“They’re burnt slam up,” said Bill Carr of his Choctaw County pasture lands and hay fields that haven’t had a rain since late July.
His tends 35 head of what he says are brangus “mama cows” and two bulls on 70 hilly acres of pasture land.
They are hungry. They came up to his tractor one day this week and nudged it to hurry him along as he distributed some of the hay he had planned on using in the winter.
“I ain’t had no pasture for two months almost.” Same for the 70 leased acres on which he raises hay.
So far his cows “are doing pretty good, but they’re about to break me,” Carr said.
He’s spending $30 a day on supplemental feed, a first for Carr, 71, who’s been raising cattle for most of his adult life.
He sold three heifers and a bull calf last week for about $1.52 a pound, down from what had been $2 to $2.25 not long ago, he said.
No farmer is an island and so Carr is not alone.
Most of the state has been in a moderate to severe drought for the past two months, according to Rocky Lemus, forage expert for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Winter grazing will be adversely affected by the drought, Lemus said. In south Mississippi, 450,000 acres out of 550,000 planted in winter rye have been hit, he said.
Rye seed simply didn’t get rain in time for germination, he said.
In north Mississippi, about 96,000 acres of 160,000 in fescue didn’t come out of its summer dormancy, putting the crop at 40 percent capacity, Lemus said.
To make up the difference, a herd the size of Carr’s would cost an extra $735 over the next month, he said.
And that may well mean maintaining weight on the cattle instead of gaining. That puts cows in a weakened state when fall calving arrives. “Those calves are going to suffer because those cows might not be producing enough milk.”
In his eight years at Mississippi State, Lemus said the drought is the most widespread he’s seen.
Prices of calves in the 500-600-pound range have fallen $450 to $500 in the past six to eight months, said Andy Berry, executive vice president of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association. So cattlemen have second thoughts when it comes to trimming their herds to cut losses.
That combined with drought makes for a gloomy picture for the association’s 3,500 members and the state’s 980,000 head of cattle, Berry said.
Major row crops dodged the drought, said Brian Williams, agricultural economist at Mississippi State. As of Sept. 27, 59 percent of soybeans had been harvested and two-thirds was in good to excellent condition, Williams said. Cotton, whose harvest has just gotten underway, is reported to be nearly 60 percent in good or excellent condition, he said. Nearly all of the corn crop had been harvested by Sept. 13, with two-thirds of it in good to excellent condition.
Rice suffered this year from excessive spring rains, contributing to the lowering of the projected 190,000 acres to a verified 143,000 acres as of Sept. 1.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has thus far declared 12 Mississippi counties, as well as those contiguous, a disaster area because of the dry spell.
They are: Leake, Smith, Scott, Simpson, Hinds, Issaquena, Madison, Humphreys, Warren, Rankin, Sharkey and Yazoo.
Additionally the Small Business Administration has said that 17 counties are eligible for 30-year loans of up to $2 million at 2.625 percent for nonprofits and 4 percent for for-profits.
The counties are: Attala, Copiah, Covington, Hinds, Jasper, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lawrence, Leake, Madison, Neshoba, Newton, Rankin, Scott, Simpson, Smith and Winston.
“When the secretary of Agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers from damages and losses to crops, the SBA issues a declaration to eligible entities affected by the same disaster,” said Frank Skaggs, director of SBA Field Operations in Atlanta.