Alabama farmers battle clear skies, summer heat

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Farmers at Birmingham’s Pepper Place know an Alabama summer well.

They know which crops do best, how to properly care for them, and which ones can make it through the sometimes triple digit temperatures that are common in central Alabama.

“You know it’s going to get hot every year, so you just plan on having things that like the heat during the summer,” farmer David Snow said.

Snow owns Snow’s Bend Farms in Tuscaloosa County. He says the heat this summer hasn’t been any different from a traditional Alabama summer.

“It got a little hot at one point in June but then it backed off a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll just be as hot as it gets this year.”

The heat isn’t the biggest obstacle for farmers, though. What can’t be predicted is rainfall: where it will rain, how much it will rain, and if it will rain.

“Where we are, we have not gotten much rain,” Snow said. “We irrigate everything, so we can always add water but not take it away if we get too much.”

Irrigation is an option not every farmer has. There are many farmers in central Alabama who are “dry farmers.” They rely on rain to keep their crops alive and properly hydrated.

“That’s one of the challenges you can’t fix,” Dwight Hamm said. “A lot of people irrigate, but I rent land, so I don’t spend that big money on rented land.”

Hamm’s farming is done out of Cullman County. He says he has already had one seven week stretch this year with no recorded rainfall.

It really stresses stuff. These squashes…stresses them out. Makes them change color.”

Troy Spinks, a farmer from Blount County, started this year with soil that was too wet for some of his crops.

“Then it began to dry out,” Spinks said. “It got a little dry and the stuff you did have planted started hurting for water.”

Spinks has seen a six-week stretch with no rainfall at his farm. He says the uncertainty of where a summer shower will hit in an Alabama summer can make farming difficult.

“Guesswork as to when you need to plant and what you need to plant according to the water you think will be available,” he said. “Sometimes you plant stuff you’re not able to irrigate and it dies because it doesn’t have enough water to keep it alive.

“You stop plowing. Anything that’ll take water out of the ground, you stop it right then, trying to conserve as much for your crop as you can.”

In that situation, Spinks says there isn’t much a dry farmer can do.

“It’s stressful,” he said. “Trying to hope the good Lord sends you a little rain before it gets too late.”

For both Spinks and Hamm, the rain has picked up. Hamm has gotten enough to keep his crops alive where he can make ends meet.

“I do five of these (farmer’s markets),” he said. “Five times a week, plus I do some restaurants.”

“We got a good rain a week ago so things are picking up now and doing a little bit better,” Spinks said. “We got some (rain) in time to save most of everything that we’ve got.”

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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