Originally created 07/21/02

Farmers hope for water



The next few days could be critical for Georgia farmers as the drought that has gripped the state for more than four years drags on, combined with a continuing stretch of days with temperatures in the 90s.

"Of course, every summer we go through stressful periods. The big question is, How long will this last?" said state climatologist David Stooksbury, a faculty member in the University of Georgia's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

So far, scattered rains have meant a good summer for some farmers, more hard times for others.

"Some have gotten gobs of rain, but in other areas of the county, we're parched. We're burning up," said Madison County Extension Agent Carl Varnadoe.

Ila farmer Terry Stephenson's fields are among those that have been skipped too often by the thunderstorms.

"Right now we should be getting a second cutting, but the way it's going, it's not going anywhere," said Mr. Stephenson, who grows Bermuda grass to sell as hay in the winter.

After more than four years of drought, even the rain he gets doesn't do as much good as it used to, Mr. Stephenson said. During the past four years, rainfall is more than 50 inches below average - a whole year's worth.

Because of that, deep soil moisture has steadily declined, so when it rains it seems to disappear quickly, running off or soaking deep into the ground, he said.

"When we get a rain with this 90-degree weather, it goes away fast. The ground just soaks it up fast. Now it's dry so deep - every year it's a domino effect," Mr. Stephenson said.