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Drought, drones, hogs dominate 2016 ag news

The exceptional drought topped 2016 news stories for Alabama farmers. CONTRIBUTED
The exceptional drought topped 2016 news stories for Alabama farmers. CONTRIBUTED
MADISON – For 2016, the top stories in Alabama agriculture focused on drought and drones, along with chatter from hogs and catfish.
Alabama Farmers Federation chose the 2016 drought as farming’s major story. From April to early December, many areas received an inch of rain or less, leading farmers to sell cattle earlier than usual.
In addition, cattle farmers had to search for hay to feed their remaining herds through winter.
“To help farmers, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries created its Hay Listing web page, and Alabama Cooperative Extension System developed AlabamaDrought.com,” Director of News Services Mary Johnson. According to the USDA, the average corn yield in 2016 was 122 bushels per acre, down from 147 bushels per acre in 2015.
In new technology, drones can assist farmers in monitoring crop and livestock conditions. Federal Aviation Administration cleared use of Unmanned Aerial Systems or drones.
Individuals can fly drone during daylight hours. “The machine must stay in the operator’s sight during flight. They cannot be flown within five miles of airports and must stay at or under 400 feet in the air,” Johnson said.
Operators must register their machines online, pass a written exam at an FAA-approved testing center and pass a background check by Transportation Security Administration.
In animal news, feral hogs continue to wreak havoc on Alabama farms, but law enforcement and government agencies are helping farmers fight back.
In November, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ two-year investigation led to 16 arrests for transporting, releasing or possessing live feral hogs. The offense is a class B misdemeanor with a $2,500 fine and possible jail time up to 180 days.
“It’s estimated feral hogs cause $1.5 billion in annual agricultural damages nationwide,” Johnson said. “The rooting mammals have been sighted in most of Alabama’s 67 counties. Sows begin breeding at six months old and produce up to four litters of four to 12 piglets per year.”
In other news, catfish production employs more than 5,800 Alabamians and annually contributes $158.2 million to the state’s economy.
For more information, visit alfafarmers.org Facebook/Alabama Farmers Federation.

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