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A look at Irma's damage to other crops


By: Georgia Farm Bureau
9/20/2017 1:52:23 PM


Peach County Farm Bureau Vice President Greg Gatliff grows about 450 acres of soybeans. Before Irma blew through his beans were about four feet tall. The storm blew them over about two feet.

Gatliff said it's too early to estimate what percent of his crop he'll lose to the storm but he's guessing 10-20 percent. The crop loss will come from not being able to run his combine down straight rows and instead having to harvest at a cross angle, which he predicts will cause some of the soybeans to be knocked to the ground. He also expects to spend more on fuel to harvest his crop.

Across the road from Gatliff, Sledge Farms, a Georgia Farm Bureau Certified Farm Market, was among the Middle Georgia peach growers with peach trees blown over or left leaning from Irma. Nathan Sledge, who farms with his father, W. H. Sledge, said past experience has shown him it's futile to try to replant mature trees that have been completely uprooted.

"We're going to have to ride the orchard and count the number of trees that are a loss versus the ones we can save," Nathan said. "Then we'll determine whether to try to salvage the orchard or push it up and start over."
He explained that just replacing the unsalvageable trees with new ones doesn't work well because younger trees have different management needs than older trees.

Nathan said they will try to stand leaning or uprooted trees in the younger orchards that are about three and a half years old back up. That's because the root systems on these trees aren't as established as the older ones.

The financial investment the Sledges have in the young orchards also make it worth their time to try to save these trees. Nathan said a new 50-acre orchard is roughly a $50,000-$60,000 investment for the first three years before the trees start producing peaches, usually when they are four and a half years old.

"It'll be next April before we know if the trees will live because they are about to lose their leaves and go dormant," Sledge said. "We won't be able to assess the tree damage until next spring."

Other crops around the state:

Agritourism - According to Georgia Agritourism Association Executive Director Beth Oleson, the corn mazes were in great shape before the storm pushed over stalks in many of them, though since the storm passed, stalks in most of the affected corn mazes have returned to being upright. The ones in South Georgia appear to have recovered faster than the ones in the northern half of the state. Oleson also noted that several North Georgia agritourism venues went without power for a week.

"They continue to prep for corn maze, conduct school field trips, and make lemonade out of lemons," Oleson said.

Beef cattle - Georgia Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President Will Bentley said the state's herds weathered the storm well, but property damage has been significant.

"The largest amount of damage that I am hearing about occurred with wind damaged barns and trees that fell on fences," Bentley said. "I'm not sure what the cost of damage will be but I'm guessing well into the millions of dollars.

Dairy - Several dairies lost heifers/cows because of hypothermia. Many dairies lost power and had to use generators to power milking machines and to keep milk cold, according to Georgia Milk Producers Executive Director Farrah Newberry, who said Greene County was hit particularly hard. Newberry had not heard of any farmers dumping milk.

Fruits and vegetables - Most vegetable growers in South Georgia had losses in staked crops like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and other.

"The plants were blown over, damaging the plants and creating major harvest issues," said Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Executive Director Charles Hall. "It is very hard to upright an entire row of plants."

Hall said that smaller plants that are not staked had wind damage but most weathered the storm. He was unsure whether yields would be affected or harvest delayed.

Colquitt County grower Sam Watson, who grows 250 acres of peppers and eggplants combined, was left with fields of these plants leaning to the west when they should be standing upright. Fortunately, Watson had harvested his first crop of peppers and eggplants the Friday before Irma hit Georgia. He's trying to restake the plants in hopes they will produce another crop.

"We've had a tremendous whitefly problem this year and have had the added cost of extra pesticides to keep that in check, now we've potentially got a weak crop," Watson said.

Hay and forage - UGA Extension Forage Specialist Dennis Hancock expected producers to have crop loss in their second-cut silage crops. Hancock said the biggest risk at this point is from downed trees, damaged fence lines, and the potential for poisonings from those trees whose leaves are or can become toxic when consumed by cattle. (For more on this watch Hancock's video blog at

Horticulture - Nursery owners from across the state had inventory blown over and shade cloth blown around, according to Georgia Green Industry Association Executive Director Chris Butts.

"I had the same reports from Cairo to Lavonia. It really equates to a lot of cleanup work but nothing in terms of facilities or crop damage," said Butts.

Peanuts - The rain that came with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irma might have actually helped portions the state's peanut crop, according to Georgia Peanut Commission Executive Director Don Koehler. Most of the state's peanuts had not been dug when the storm hit, and growers were able to resume picking after a few days.

"Our planting window was very broad this year and so we have late peanuts which needed rain to finish making a crop," Koehler said. "We had gotten very dry and so the rainfall part was welcome and because peanuts grow close to the ground the wind didn't cause much grief for peanuts."

Koehler was quick to point out that while peanuts fared OK, most peanut farmers also produce other commodities that were hit hard, particularly cotton and pecans.

Poultry - Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles said he had received some reports of minor wind damage, though he was not aware of any catastrophic losses.

"The biggest disruption came from loss of power at the farm level, but most farms are back on power now. The have generators so they were able to continue operating while the power was off," Giles said.

Tobacco - UGA Extension Tobacco Specialist J. Michael Moore expected 15 to 20 percent of the 2017 crop would be lost due to Hurricane Irma, and that tobacco harvested late in the season would likely have low quality.

"The bright spot for us is we did not lose the entire crop," Moore told GFB media. "Many of our growers were already finished harvesting and tobacco has been bringing a good price at the marke this year."

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