But what happens when the county doesn’t get as many good, soaking summer rains as it needs?
“It’s just the life of the farmer,” said Chuck Joiner, president of the Carroll County Cattlemen’s Association. “You take the good with the bad. Just like another year, we’ve got hit-or-miss showers, and more of them seem to be missing.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday added 218 counties from 12 states to its list of natural disaster areas, bringing the overall total to 1,584 counties — one of which is Carroll County — in 32 states, which is more than half of all U.S. counties.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, an online map that keeps track of drought-stricken areas, lists Carroll County in an “extreme drought,” but it could be worse — counties just south of Carroll are in the worst kind of drought recorded, known as “exceptional.” Only 18.6 percent of Georgia land is not in a drought, according to the monitor.
Carroll County ranks second in the state in cattle/calves production, with between 23,000 and 25,000 heads on 641 farms, according to the 2007 Agriculture Census.
The 2010 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, published in November 2011, lists Carroll County as fourth in the production of beef cows (“mama cows,” as county Extension agent Paula Burke called them) with 17,500 heads. The county is No. 10 in production of beef stockers, with 5,000 heads of cattle.
Joiner said the county has seen a sharp decline in cattle production since the drought started, with the lowest number of cattle in 70 years.
“There were some signs of herd rebuilding after the 2007 drought, but it’s gone away because of the drought here and out west,” he said.
Atlanta has been below the 30-year average rainfall every month since January of this year. The city has been below 40 inches of annual rainfall four times since 1895, with the two most recent occasions occurring in 2007 and last year.
This year is on track to be the fifth year under the 40-inch marker, with only 20.25 inches in the first six months and an unusually dry fall expected.
The National Weather Service’s Carrollton station has recorded 25.19 inches this year, compared to the normal rainfall of 31.47 inches.
“That’s 6.44 inches behind where we should be,” said Laura Belanger, a meteorologist with NWS. “But to come out of the drought, we’ll need more than that because the drought has been building for several months.”
Belanger said lakes, creeks and rivers are lowering values in the area, but it’s not to an extreme extent yet.
“But it’s certainly something to watch in the coming months as we close out the year,” Belanger said.
With rising input costs, extreme drought conditions and an increased demand, a domino effect has been created, forcing cattle production to become more costly and beef prices to rise.
“It all builds,” Joiner said. “It’s not just about what happens now, it’s about what has happened in the past few months and what we can expect to happen in the next few months.”
Corn and hay, two of the mainstays of a cattle diet, are both becoming more costly and hard to find.
“It’s not always a bed of roses,” Joiner said. “But that’s what makes this country so great and farming so good — the technology we’re finding and the willingness we have to work together.”
While a variety of crops are strained across the Midwest because of the drought, a top concern is corn.
“The unusually hot and dry conditions coincide with the period of pollination and kernel formation, which sharply reduces estimated yields,” the USDA reported. “As of July 17, approximately 88 percent of the corn crop was in regions impacted by drought.”
About 75 percent of all food found in the supermarket contains corn, officials say.
As of this week, nearly half of the nation’s corn crop was rated poor to very poor, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Joiner said input costs like fertilizer are “through the roof,” just like gasoline.
“It’s because we don’t mind nutrients like phosphates and potassium in the U.S. anymore,” he said. “We have to depend on foreign oil industries to get the things we need.”
Both Carrollton and Carroll County water authorities have recorded significant drops in reservoir levels that were caused by heat evaporation and increases in demand. But the losses are nowhere near those during the 2007 drought.
Matt Windom, executive director of Carroll County Water Authority, said drops in the water supply are due to the evaporation, water taken out for treatment and water released to maintain stream flows.
“Overall, considering the heat, the reservoir level is holding up well,” Windom said in July. “Today, we’re about a foot below normal. In the fall of 2007, we got down to six feet below normal.”
Under the Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010, watering for personal gardens, new plants and several other irrigation uses is allowed any day of the week with no time restrictions. Outdoor watering for any purpose other than watering plants is restricted to an odd-even number scheduling. Odd-number addresses are asked to water on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, while even numbers are assigned Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Watering times are from 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. No Friday watering is permitted under the act.
Joiner, who was raised on a farm in southern Alabama, said in these drought-stricken times he goes back to what his father used to say when in the same situation.
“Like my daddy always said, it’ll rain one day,” he said. “That’s what I go on.”