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Relief won’t come from low creeks

Like the Fullers, most farmers in Lawrence County now have to pump from what creek pools are left to irrigate crops and water cattle.

Thursday, August 12, 1999

Like the Fullers, most farmers in Lawrence County now have to pump from what creek pools are left to irrigate crops and water cattle.

"What we’re getting to with the water looks good, but that’s only one acre of tobacco and we can’t afford the equipment to water the rest," Fuller said.

Hay production across the county is about a third of what it should be, and there will be no second cutting, Crawford said.

Growing corn will probably not make grain status, but farmers can use it for silage to feed livestock this winter, he said.

Paul Higgins of Linnville knows that story. He planted his 14 acres four times, and lack of rain stunted its growth each time, he said.

"And there’s nobody here in Lawrence County that’s got good tobacco," Higgins said, adding neighboring Gallipolis only has good stands because that area got most of the rain.

Later-maturing varieties of tobacco might do well if it rains in the next two weeks, but forecasters are not hopeful, Crawford said.

Still, most farm families should make it this year, which is only a continuation of a three- to four-year dry spell, said George Fuller, Jeremy’s father.

"We’re doing all right, we just don’t know how far we can go," Fuller said.

Although Fuller has farmed for a living, there are no more than a handful in the county who do not work other jobs, he said.

"It looks like now we’re hauling water every day to cattle," Fuller said.

And farmers are trying to make good decisions, like weaning calves early and keeping them in the barn to relieve stress on the grazing cattle, he said.

Those who can’t haul water, or haul enough water, have started selling older stock at the market, to cut losses this winter, Crawford said.

Prices have remained steady, although some cattle have been lightweight, he said.

"We’re more isolated in this region as far as the drought," Crawford said, adding that it takes a national event to affect prices.

Other reactions to the drought vary – from government assistance to crop insurance.

The U.S. Agriculture Department approved an agriculture disaster declaration for 66 Ohio counties on Tuesday, but money won’t be available until the federal budget year begins in October.

Lawrence County is included and could have access to money early thanks to a similar declaration in neighboring West Virginia.

The USDA said the Ohio counties were eligible for low-interest loans because crop or livestock production was reduced by at least 30 percent.

Farmers will be able to apply for the loans, but the USDA must approve them on a case-by-case basis.

Federal officials might reinstate emergency conservation funds for feed and Congress could approve direct payment aid for crop losses, but that remains to be seen, Crawford said.

Low-interest loans are a good benefit, but farmers already in debt sometimes see that as only a last option, he said.

"Farming in general just doesn’t have the voice here," Crawford said.

It will take four of five inches of steady rain this month to help at least the late corn, so crop insurance might be the biggest help to farmers facing drought problems, especially with tobacco, Crawford added.

"A lot of people rely on tobacco for farm payments so that’s how they secure themselves, with insurance," Jeremy Fuller said.

The Fullers do not carry insurance but they have a low tobacco quota – or how much they are allowed to grow by law.

They won’t meet the quota, but they won’t be that far off either, Fuller said.

"Even one decent two- to three-inch rain will get us to that level," he said.