HEADLAND Kris Balkcom shakes his head as he stands in a dusty field surrounded by waist-high, brown and barren corn plants that by this time of year should be taller than him and filled with ears of tasty sweet corn.

As wide sections of the Southeast bake, National Weather Service forecasters say a combination of factors, including a high pressure system parked over the region and less moisture from the Gulf, are causing this siege of dry weather.

For Balkcom and others who farm the hot, sandy south Alabama soil, this year's devastating dry weather -- the third major drought in the area in nine years -- a victim is evident. The corn crop, long a staple in a region where rows and rows of majestic corn plants once lined country roads, is going the way of the family farm.

No doubt corn has always been a high risk because of the amount of water it demands," Balkcom said. We definitely will cut back on the amount of corn we grow next year."

Other farmers say they long ago stopped trying to grow corn in the region's shallow sandy soil, which doesn't hold moisture for as long as dirt in Midwest states, where corn remains a popular crop. Figures bear out the trend: Statewide corn production has dropped steadily since the mid 1950s, when more than 2 million acres of corn were planted; in recent years that figure was down to about 220,000 acres.

We haven't grown corn or soybeans in years," said Debbie Kirkland, who with her husband, Thomas, grows mostly cotton and peanuts on 1,500 acres near Headland.

We've essentially stopped growing soybeans and corn down here," said Dallas Harzog, an agronomist with the Agriculture Extension Service. We are only growing 10 percent of the corn we were growing 20 years ago."

One farmer, Curry Parker of Headland, said the only good that could come from this year's corn crop would be to provide an emergency supply of food for cows, which are trying to survive on barren pasture land.

We have not quit feeding our cows," Parker said. We lost all of our corn and ground it into feed for our cows. Without that I'd be out of the cow business right now."

Extension Service researcher William Birdsong said the only reason farmers in southeast Alabama will grow corn in the future will be to feed cows and other animals.

Farmers say that peanuts and cotton do better in the hot and sandy soil, which they say creates the sweet, rich flavor found in premium brands of peanut butter. But this year's drought is also threatening those crops. Thomas Kirkland said he expects to lose 75 percent of his cotton and peanuts this year.

Gov. Bob Riley and U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., who represents much of southeast Alabama, said they have been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get help for the farmers.

The demise of corn, soybeans and other row crops has caused some farmers to search for alternate crops that might produce a quicker profit. Across the state that search has seen farmers turn to raising such diverse products as shrimp, rabbits, Christmas trees and llamas. In southeast Alabama, some farmers are hoping that blueberries might be the answer.

Parker said some of his neighbors are planting blueberries on what used to be corn, cotton or peanut fields. Blueberries must be irrigated, but require fewer acres to produce a profitable crop.

Agriculture officials and farmers say the recent succession of dry spells in a region historically considered one of the wettest in the country is joining other factors -- low prices, the high cost of insurance, fuel costs, trade deficits and government regulations among them -- to speed up the demise of the family farm.

According to the Alabama Agriculture Statistics office, the number of family farms in Alabama has steadily dropped from about 250,000 in 1930 to about 50,000 in 2004. Part of the problem is that the children of farmers are looking for other ways to make a living. Census figures show that the average age for a farmer in Alabama was 57 in 2002.

It's that statistic that worries Thomas Kirkland, 54, and wife Debbie, 52, whose three children are not planning to go into farming. It could signal an end to six generations of farming by his family in the Kirkland's Crossroads community of rural Dale County.

I can't blame them. There's just too much risk," Kirkland said. But he said he's not going to let dry weather and low prices force him to quit as long as he's healthy enough to keep farming.

Balkcom, 34, who works for the extension service and helps his 66-year-old father with the family farm in the evenings and on weekends, said times have changed when children were raised on the farm and then stayed on the farm because they grew up with it."

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