For most Georgia cotton growers, the 2018 crop will be remembered as the one where Hurricane Michael blew a sizeable portion of the state’s biggest field crop to the ground, unharvestable.
On Nov. 19, 2018, the UGA Cooperative Extension Service estimated the hurricane’s estimated crop damage to cotton between $550 million and $600 million.
In a broader sense, fall 2018 will be referred to as the time when the weather didn’t cooperate. At all.
“We only had about 12 percent of our cotton harvested when Hurricane Michael hit,” said Georgia Cotton Commission Executive Director Richey Seaton, who estimated Georgia lost up to 40 percent of its cotton crops. “The weather conditions after the hurricane – rain, a few days of sunshine, more rain. Our soils are so saturated with moisture now, even if you get a tenth [of an inch] or two of rain, it looks like you had a really big rainfall event.”
Following Michael, which hit Georgia Oct. 10 and 11, persistent heavy rains from November through January
have kept farmers out of their fields, waiting for enough dry days to firm up the ground and dry the cotton fibers.
“Some folks are still picking cotton. We’ve never picked cotton the first part of the next year,” Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long said in remarks at the Jan. 22, UGA Ag Forecast meeting.
Some producers were still working on getting the cotton out of the field into February. Dooly County Farm Bureau Director Clegg Griggs, who planted about 2,200 acres of cotton, still had about 550 acres left on Jan. 28, and with heavy rains forecast for the next day, he was certain the harvest would drag into February.
“Your operation comes to a grinding halt,” Griggs said. “It sets timing behind for the next season as well. Usually by now we’re putting out cover crop and getting ready for the next year.”
Griggs pointed out a tract at the edge of one of his fields, about eight acres in a low spot that he said likely would not be harvested.
By most accounts, Georgia was headed for a massive cotton crop in 2018 before Michael. On Feb. 1, Seaton said approximately 10 percent of the state’s 2018 cot- ton crop had not been harvested. Cotton
picked late will have diminished quality. “I’m sure 2018 is a year that we’ll re- member both for the potential our crop had and the devastation of the hurricane and our economic loss from poor harvest
conditions,” Seaton said.
On Jan. 28, Griggs pulled a tuft of cotton out of its boll and demonstrated how the seed inside had already rotted.
“The quality has taken a tremendous blow,” Griggs said. “The seeds are in very poor to nonexistent condition and the grades of the lint are very low. I don’t know what the grades are at the moment, but I can tell just by the cotton itself that it’s not going to be pretty.”
Long said his son, Justin, stopped picking cotton in mid-January because the twisted stalks left from the hurricane kept clogging the combine machinery, which slows the pace of harvest and leaves debris in the cotton after it’s picked.
Griggs said the twigs and bark in harvested cotton will further degrade the quality of the lint.
“A farmer works real hard to do the best he can for a good crop,” Griggs said. It’s heartbreaking to see it hit the ground through no fault of his own.”