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Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 11:54am

State Dogged By Lingering Drought

Most of central and North Georgia will be under a heat advisory until Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. While the extreme heat is a nuisance, the larger problem is the drought.

In much of south Georgia, drought conditions are at the highest levels. As residents see wells go dry, the weather is taking a toll on the state’s agriculture and timber industries.

Wild fires have consumed thousands of acres of forest. And farmers are struggling to plant crops in parched soil.

David Stooksbury, the state climatologist, says the heat is seasonal, and only temporary.

“Yes, it’s warm but it’s summertime in Dixie," he said. "With the drought, that’s an ongoing event that started last year and continued through the winter and intensified as we went into the spring and early summer.”

Stooksbury says Georgia desperately needs the amount of rain a tropical storm would bring, but preferably without the flooding.

The soil is so dry in some areas that farmers are having trouble coaxing seeds to germinate.

The conditions are taking a toll on two of Georgia’s top crops, cotton and peanuts, says Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

"The lack of rainfall and just the intense heat is not doing these seedlings any favors, trying to get up from the ground to where they can build a canopy to protect their root systems," he said. "It’s proving to be quite a challenge. And if you don’t have irrigation, you’re really on the bottom side of the equation.”

Tolar says while irrigating fields with diesel-powered pumps costs a lot, the alternative is standing by and watching crops wither. Indeed, he says farmers who have access to water right now are faring better.

But not every area of the state has extensive irrigation systems. He says the impact of the drought won't be clear until farmers can determine whether the crops are viable, and can be taken to market.