By late May, says Stooksbury, many parts of the state were receiving half the normal rainfall for an extended period, with the Coastal Plain region of Georgia being in an extreme drought by late May. The most recent ratings are showing exceptional drought in the southwest region of the state and inching into Alabama and Florida. The remainder of the Coastal Plain is in extreme drought.

“That’s how we got to this point,” he says. “Much of the Southern Piedmont and the Coastal Plain has received less than 70 percent of normal rainfall since Oct. 1, 2010. Over the last 60 days, much of southwest Georgia has received less between 50 percent, and in some areas, less than 20 percent, of normal rainfall.”

According to the final U.S. Drought Monitor report for the month of June, beneficial rainfall ranging from 2 to 5 inches have improved drought conditions in north Alabama, north Georgia and extreme northwest South Carolina.

However, long-term precipitation deficits remained in the region. During the past six months, the area is 15 inches or more behind normal along coastal Alabama and Mississippi and parts of southern Florida, and rainfall deficits of 20 inches or more are widespread for the past 12 months. 

Hot temperatures through late June resulted in continued above-normal evaporation, with maximum temperatures in the 90s and low 100s, setting new records in some locations.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that the lack of rainfall has resulted in extremely low river and creek levels, with many wells going dry, and this has begun to impact southwest Georgia water utilities that rely on groundwater. 

Dry weather and hot temperatures have ravaged crops, with a fourth to half of several crops (corn, cotton, peanuts, sorghum and soybeans) rated in poor to very poor condition across several Southeast states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina).  The hard soils and hot temperatures have made successful sprouting of seed difficult and, due to lack of forage, farmers are sending cattle to feedlots or selling cattle.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has declared 22 drought-stricken counties in Georgia as disaster areas. With the USDA Secretarial Disaster Designation, Georgia farmers will be able to apply for emergency loans and other benefits to ease losses.

“Secretary Vilsack went above and beyond our request, naming an additional 26 counties as contiguous disaster counties,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia who is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “I am thankful these drought-stricken counties in Georgia will have access to the aid they need to bounce back from this unfortunate situation. Now we need rain.”

The counties that will become eligible to apply for emergency loans and other benefits provided by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 are Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Chatham, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Dodge, Effingham, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Telfair, Thomas, Wayne and Wheeler.

Vilsack also wrote that he is naming the following areas as contiguous disaster counties: Berrien, Bleckley, Bulloch, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Echols, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Laurens, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Mitchell, Montgomery, Pulaski, Screven, Tattnall, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Ware, Wilcox and Worth

Like those in primary disaster counties, farmers in contiguous disaster counties may be considered for assistance under the Farm Service Agency (FSA). This includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments program. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistantance.

Farmers may contact their local FSA office for more information.