Drought hurting crops

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

From beneath the shelter of his farmhouse's front porch, Brad Lingo smiled at the sheets of rain falling fast from his roof. The curly hairs of his beard seemed to draw tighter to his face, and though his glasses were beginning to fog, his eyes revealed the feeling that accompanies seeing a long-lost friend.

"This doesn't solve our drought problem," he said.

Lingo, owner of Brad's Organic Blueberries near Bronson, said that until recently, his 40-acre farm had not seen rain in about nine weeks. Lingo, like many other growers in the area, relied on irrigation to get him through the dry spell, but he said it's caused his electric bill to triple.

Lingo, who has been growing for more than 30 years, also grows Shitake mushrooms and native plants, both of which have suffered from the dryness. He said his mushroom fruiting for April and May were reduced by about three-fourths.

Chiefland City Commissioner Rollin Hudson, who also happens to be a farmer, said the lack of rain has hurt the market appeal of his watermelon crops this year.

"Could be one of the last years for us," he said.

Hudson said because of sporadic rain and late frost early in the season, many of his melons developed a condition known as hollow heart-hollow spaces within the fruit.

In cases where hollow heart becomes apparent, he said, farmers are limited to selling locally or selling at reduced prices.

Hudson said he's had to water about 50 percent more when compared to two years ago, and although he couldn't give specific amounts, he said his utility bills have increased dramatically.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida is in its second year of drought, and conditions last year were the worst since the 1950s. As of the beginning of 2008, 20 percent of the state has been experiencing severe drought.

Ludie Bond, a representative from the Levy County Division of Forestry, said the drought also makes it difficult to control wildfires.

"It's very taxing on firefighter resources, " she said.

When a fire breaks out, the Division of Forestry concentrates on the fire's perimeter. They plow containment lines and are responsible for monitoring the fire if it continues to burn or smolder, Bond explained.

Bond said that on June 9, her district dealt with 22 fires-most of which were in Putnam and Levy counties.

But, she added, the recent rains, though not ending the drought, "helped a lot."

The rains have decreased the amount of smoke in the air, she said, and have helped control the spread of fire.