Cotton crop in South Georgia banged up by hailstorms and high winds

Farmers of state’s most lucrative crop say damage is moderate-to-severe but most plants should recover
Trey Davis, son of Bart Davis and a Managing Partner of Davis Family Farms, shows one of their cotton fields being damaged by recent hailstorms and high winds, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Doerun, GA. Cotton plants on this field were young so had sever damaged. Bart Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Trey Davis, son of Bart Davis and a Managing Partner of Davis Family Farms, shows one of their cotton fields being damaged by recent hailstorms and high winds, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Doerun, GA. Cotton plants on this field were young so had sever damaged. Bart Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Bart Davis was out on his farm a couple Mondays ago when he saw a gray cloud hang over the land. Next came hail and wind so strong one of his irrigation pivots was upended. Similar storms followed the days after, and the biggest pour of hail hit June 14.

Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said.

“It was like something you see on TV on the Weather Channel,” Davis said. “It wasn’t nothing like what you normally see here.”

Davis, who is chairman of the Georgia Cotton Commission, said most cotton farmers around the state had similar damage. He said some of the state’s crops might be delayed by the weather and his own crop will likely be set back by a couple of weeks. He figures most of his cotton will recover.

The storm damage suffered by Georgia’s cotton farmers follows an abnormally warm winter and sudden cold snap that pummeled the state’s peach crop.

Cotton is Georgia’s most lucrative crop, with its upland production value cashing in at $1.2 billion in 2022, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The state’s farmers harvested 1.2 million acres last year. When the cotton is ginned and fiber is separated from seed, most of Georgia’s product is exported to be spun and woven, said Camp Hand, cotton agronomist for the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service.

Trey Davis, son of Bart Davis and a Managing Partner of Davis Family Farms, shows one of their cotton fields being damaged by recent hailstorms and high winds, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Doerun, GA. Cotton plants on this field were young so had sever damaged. Bart Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Cotton farmers took to social media and text messages to report their storm toll, posts that Hand saw fly in all week, from all over the state.

Hand composed a guidance email for the state’s farmers, advising them to first contact their crop insurance carrier. He also advised farmers against making any rash decisions about the state of their crop.

“That’s when the crop is going to look the worst,” Hand said. “You give it about five to ten days of sunshine and warm weather, and it’s going to recover a lot.”

Hand surveyed crops in Colquitt County days later and found some of the plants already in better shape.

Davis agreed with the need for more heat and sun to accurately evaluate his crop. But unrelenting, drenching rains have kept him out of the fields for two weeks since the damaging storms hit, Davis said.

“The fields are so wet you can’t hardly walk in them,” Davis said.

Both Davis and Hand believe a majority of the crops will recover well, with the younger plants taking damage the hardest, as hail knocks off needed leaves and breaks tender stems. The more mature plants are developed enough to overcome some of the battering.

Taylor Buckner, operates a John Deere Sprayer to spray weed control on one of cotton fields at Davis Family Farms, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Doerun, GA. Cotton plants on this field were mature, so didn’t get much damaged by recent hailstorms and high winds. Bart Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Davis started planting his cotton in late April and finished around the end of May. The entire growing season lasts around 150-180 days, but crop planted in April is likely mature enough to recover from the storm. Hand observed the same across the region.

“At this point in the season, a lot of our cotton is probably a month or 45 days after planting,” Hand said. “It had a big root system below ground, so it was able to support those plants and find what it needs to grow out of that.”

Trey Davis, son of Bart Davis and a Managing Partner of Davis Family Farms, shows one of their cotton fields being damaged by recent hailstorms and high winds, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, in Doerun, GA. Cotton plants on this field were young so had sever damaged. Bart Davis has around 7,500 acres of land across Southwest Georgia in Colquitt, Mitchell, Worth, and Dougherty counties — and every acre of cotton was hit by the storms. Hail the size of golf and tennis balls, some even larger, slammed his crops, Davis said. Damage ranged from moderate to severe, he said. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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