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Ga. Farmers Ponder Weighty Issues

March 7, 2000

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ Georgia farmers, already plagued by drought and low prices, have to plow through more problems before they begin spring planting this month.

``Anytime you have all the commodities as cheap as they are, it’s hard to know where to go,″ said Mike Newberry, an Arlington peanut and cotton farmer whose top concerns are commodity prices and the availability of water to irrigate his crops.

``We went into ’99 and my idea was the only thing we could do was tie a knot in the rope and hang on,″ he said. ``In the year 2000, I hope there’s a little more rope and room for another knot.″

Bill Givan, an agricultural economist with the University of Georgia, said there is more frustration in the agricultural community than he’s seen in nearly 30 years as a farm management specialist.

``The ground is dry and the weather service keeps saying it may run into summer,″ he said. ``I have heard ... that some farmers are looking at soybeans, rather than cotton, because they cost less to plant.″

But Southeastern farmers can only grow corn and soybeans profitably under ideal conditions, Givan said. ``Unless we have irrigation, we just can’t compete with the Midwest.″

High on the list of farmers’ concerns is the extended drought that has caused the driest conditions in nearly a half century in south Georgia, where most of the state’s crops are grown.

The water situation is so critical in parts of southwestern Georgia that members of the state House have voted to pay farmers who stop irrigating during severe droughts.

The measure would provide up to $30 million to those who turn off the taps on 100,000 acres in the Flint River Basin.

Talks between the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia on sharing water from the Flint, Chattahoochee and Appalachicola rivers is another issue that could affect farmers. The talks have stalled, and if no agreement is reached, the matter could be decided by the courts.

Commodity prices began dropping in 1998 because of strong worldwide production and the Asian financial crisis. They continued to plummet last year as surpluses developed for grain and other commodities. Economists don’t expect prices to rise until next year.

The USDA predicts net farm income will drop $7.6 billion this year to $40.4 billion, making it likely that Congress will have to approve more farm aid in the fall.

This year, even two of Georgia’s most reliable crops _ peanuts and tobacco _ have problems.

The USDA has cut Georgia’s tobacco quota _ the amount farmers are allowed to grow _ in half over the past three years because of reduced demand. That will cost Georgia growers millions of dollars.

And peanuts, usually among the state’s most profitable row crops, will probably sell for lower prices because of a surplus.

Terrell Hudson, a Dooly County cotton and peanut grower, said low prices are his chief concern. In years past, Hudson knew by November which crops he would plant. This year, he may not decide until the third week of March.

``If we had crystal balls like some people think we do, we’d have all sat out the ’99 crop and gone and bought oil futures,″ he said.

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