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Farmers welcome rain, could still use more

Recent rains have helped Lincoln County recover from a long dry spell, but the area remains in a short-term drought.

     Currently more than 70 percent of the United States is experiencing some level of drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

     A lack of rainfall affects everyone, but it affects farmers in more significant ways than it impacts others.

     Lincoln County Extension Agent Rebecca Bates said the dry conditions clearly had an impact on those trying to grow crops or raise livestock.

     “The lack of rainfall and excessive heat we’ve had is affecting all farmers and gardeners in the same way,” she said. “I especially have a concern for livestock producers that aren’t getting livestock in their pastures and for their feed crops that they’re producing. Also, the stress the heat puts on the animals can be extreme.”

     Larry Sasser, a beef producer outside of Bogue Chitto in Lincoln County, said the dry conditions made him change the way he operated.

     “I had to cut back on the number of cows I had due to many things,” he said. “The cost of fuel, feed, fertilizer and lack of rain all factored into it.”

     Sasser said at one time he had 250 cows on his property, but is now down to around 150. He did say last week’s round of rains had been helpful.

     “The recent rains have been just lovely,” he said late last week. “We’ve had around 2 inches at my house. It’s not a lot, but what’s made it good is that it’s been slow rain that soaks into the hills without running off.”

     For beef and dairy farmers, rainfall is essential. Sasser said before you’re a cattle farmer, you’re a grass farmer.

     “Grass is the easiest and cheapest way to feed the cattle,” he said.

     But with the lack of rainfall the area saw in recent months, Sasser said his grass was turning brown in many spots and he is behind on hay collection for the winter.

     “There’s less grass around right now,” he said. “The quality has not been hurt, but there is just less of it.”

     Sasser said if things were to get extremely dry for him, he’d have to buy hay or sell cattle.

     “Last year I panicked and bought hay, but later I found I didn’t need it,” he said.

     At this time of year, Sasser said he usually has between 200-250 round bales of hay in his barns, but he currently has less than 100.

     Cattle cool off in and drink from ponds, but Sasser said the lack of rainfall left his ponds with less water than usual.

     “My ponds are getting low and the quality is going downhill,” he said. “It’ll take a good rain to help them out because if it’s just a little rain, the ground will just soak that up.

     He said the past week’s rains have not benefited his ponds as much as the grass.

     “The slow rain we’ve had did not affect the ponds much,” he said. “We could still use more in there to make it cleaner.”

     While the impact may be more severe for professional farmers than for home gardeners, dry conditions have still been a factor.

     But Bates said for gardeners, gardening is a hobby – not their livelihood. She said it’s must easier to irrigate small areas than large fields.

     Sasser said he knows how everyone can help all the area’s farmers.

     “I recommend everyone pray for lots of rain,” he said. “It’s hard to get too much rainfall over the summer.”

     Sasser said he’s optimistic that some additional rain will fall soon that will continue to help out his beef production.

     “It sounds like we may have some more coming, so maybe we’re getting into some good weather and I can cut some hay early next week,” he said.