Irma aftermath: Georgia farmers face heavy losses in pecans, cotton

5:30 p.m Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 Georgia Politics and Government
A cotton picker harvests crops on Aug. 23, 2016. Bloomberg photo by Eddie Seal.

Georgia pecan and cotton farmers face heavy losses and early reports suggest more than a dozen other row crops and vegetables were damaged in Tropical Storm Irma’s treacherous path. 

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said he will tour areas of South Georgia on Friday with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to assess the storm’s impact, giving producers a chance to ask them both how to get help.

In the meantime, Black’s staff have taken on recovery efforts aimed at helping grocery stores, gas stations and dairy farms, among other businesses, get back up and running.

Communities throughout Florida and Georgia are coming together to clean up the mess left by Hurricane Irma.

Three of the state’s farmers’ markets are also being used to help stage disaster response efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up camp at the Cordele market; the market just south of downtown Atlanta has been used to coordinate help for animals; and the Macon market is being used as a pet shelter and Red Cross base.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

Black said some of the storm’s most significant damage was done to pecan trees, some of which are decades-old and bursting with nuts ready to harvest. At least 30 percent of the crop is expected to be lost, he said.

The news is just as bad for cotton growers. Black said he expected some to face losing 20 to 40 percent of their crop, depending how they might salvage plants that got twisted and mangled in the wind.

“We’re not sure about plant damage and what it’s going to do about insects and disease,” Black said. The plants are “resilient and can survive, but harvest will be hard.”

The losses come on the heels of a tough spring for the state’s leading industry.

Nearly 80 percent of the state’s peach crop was wiped out earlier this year by a combination of an overly warm winter and a hard freeze in early spring, with a similarly devastating blow this year to the blueberry crop that together caused a $300 million hit to the state’s farmers.

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