|By ANN HINCH
CAMDEN, Tenn. — Nature barely gave the western portion of the Volunteer State time to begin digging out from under tornado damage at the beginning of the month, before sending another spate of twisters across middle Tennessee April 7.
“When I was growing up, every 10 years, you’d hear of a tornado coming through,” said Mark Hargis, director of the Benton County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office, located four counties west of Nashville. “They’re just becoming more frequent here than they have in the past – ‘Tornado Alley’ has moved east.”
Indeed, the last several years have brought Tennessee more than its fair share of twisters, sometimes in strange months – on at least two occasions in the past four years, they’ve struck in November.
So far, this year’s tornadoes have killed 36 people in the state, a third of those on April 7.
Just two days earlier, FSA received notification that Dyer and Gibson counties in western Tennessee had been declared primary Presidential Major Disaster areas, which means their farmers will be eligible for emergency cost-share conservation assistance and low-interest loans.
Other counties included in the declaration were Carroll, Crocket, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, Obion and Weakley.
At first assessment, agricultural damage from April 7 tornadoes seems more widespread in location than, but perhaps not as violent as, that from the April 2 twisters.
Part of the reason may be the mid-state tornadoes acted like typical twisters – skipping along relatively narrow individual paths – while the western ones worked in concert and stuck to the ground for many miles at a stretch.
North of Nashville, Sumner County suffered nine human deaths. University of Tennessee county extension Director Bob Ary said late last week he hadn’t received any reports of livestock death – only injuries – despite the area having a large equine and cattle population.
“At this point, it seems mostly to be loss of (six) barns,” he said of ag-related damage. “Most of what we saw following the path of the twister was pastureland or between subdivisions,” he added, explaining planting occurs primarily in the northern and western parts of Sumner County.
Fencerows and trees were casualties of the tornadoes, of course, but Ary reported of the 40-50 farms he saw, repairs seemed to be going well. Much of the debris that did hit farmland was being cleared quickly, too.
“It’s just amazing how much has been done in a week,” Ary said.
Jeff Hudson, director of 15 counties of the mid-state district of FSA, has seen this in the wider area, as well. “They’re doing a remarkable job of getting it picked up already,” he said of farmers and producers.
In Warren County, about 60 miles southeast of Nashville and the home of three deaths, FSA Director Steve Stubblefield reported hearing perhaps 10-15 cattle had been killed, but could not verify it (Hudson said he’d not yet received reports of livestock deaths).
Much of the agricultural damage he could confirm was to nursery stock and trees.
“If we think about the county, it’s almost circular, the northern end is where most of our nursery stock is produced,” Stubblefield explained. “The hail damage is probably more widespread; there’s roofs with holes in them from the hail, and I’m sure the trees took a beating.”
He estimated perhaps 100 barns and other ag-related buildings sustained damage in addition to residential areas. One producer was lucky that when the tornado ripped the roof off the milking parlor of his dairy barn, it only scared some cows rather than killing them.
Other crop damage, such as to winter wheat, was minimal, and Stubblefield said spring planting had not begun. This, and very early seeding, seemed the case in much of the western two-thirds of the state hit by tornadoes so far this month.
“If there is a good thing, we didn’t have crops up and growing at that time,” said Richard Powell, extension program leader for the western third of Tennessee.
Benton County farmers saw “a considerable amount” of fences and buildings destroyed in the April 7 tornadoes, according to Hargis.
He added there is much arable bottomland in the central and southern part of the county, which was hit, but fortunately, because the area is fairly wet, planting had not begun. Too, there is little wheat grown in the county.
Nobody would argue Tennessee could use a break from even mild tornadoes. Hargis’ Benton County farm suffered destruction in last November’s multi-state twisters, and the family has just reached the point financially where they can fix everything. An April 7 tornado, however, passed within 2,000 feet of the property.
“The way they’re going now, I’m afraid we’re going to get hit again, before we can get it rebuilt,” Hargis said.
This farm news was published in the April 19, 2006 issue of Farm World.