Tornadoes hit South Georgia ag for second time in two weeks
By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau
A second wave of tornadoes struck South Georgia on April 23, leaving widespread destruction to homes, businesses and property.
Agricultural assets in Moultrie, Pelham and Homerville were hit by what the National Weather Service deemed to be three tornadoes, two rated by the National Weather Service (NWS) at EF-1 strength, pushing farmers and agribusinesses into the all-too-familiar cleanup and recovery process.
Perhaps the hardest-hit location was Farmers Gin and Peanut in Moultrie, where manager Jon Ladson gave a reminder of higher priorities while pushing through the aftermath of the storm.
“Nobody got hurt by God’s grace and that’s what counts,” Ladson said. “All this can be replaced.”
The Farmers Gin and Peanut location near the Sunbelt Expo site in Moultrie took a direct hit, Ladson said. The storm mangled the gin building, causing gaps in the siding and roof that allowed rain to get inside, where the gin housed its machinery and advanced electronic equipment. Ladson said the building would have to be torn down and rebuilt. Farmers Gin had about 30,000 bales of cotton in various buildings onsite, but only lost about 20 of them that were stored in the main gin building.
The business’ peanut drying facility was also hit hard, tossing peanut wagons against the structure’s support columns, damaging both the structure and the wagons. Ladson said the company’s 60,000-square-foot warehouse had all of its 17 roll-up doors blown out and a 100-foot elevator was ripped down.
“This is the fifth straight year we’ve had tornado or hurricane damage either here or at our Ellenton facility,” said Ladson. “It’s gotten to the point where I’m not even surprised any more.”
The Sunbelt Expo grounds sustained minor damage, according to spokeswoman Becca Turner.
Colquitt County Farm Bureau Director Sam Watson said the storm ripped up plastic sheets in some of his vegetable fields in the south part of the county. The wind and heavy rain damaged squash he had planted there.
Watson said his crops are hurting from the cumulative effect of three violent storms in the span of two weeks, during which South Georgia received heavy rainfall.
“It’s just been one after another,” Watson said. “We’ll replant squash, but it has been so wet it’s hard to get out there.”
Colquitt County Extension Coordinator Jeremy Kichler said some farms had barn roofs torn off and damage to hay barns.
The twister that touched down in Colquitt County stayed on the ground for more than 28 miles and moved into Cook County according to the NWS. At its widest point the tornado was nearly a mile wide.
In Mitchell County, the city of Pelham was ravaged, with widespread damage to structures in town and destroyed poultry houses on the farm of Johnny Taylor.
Georgia Farm Bureau 9th District Director Paul Shirah, a Mitchell County Farm Bureau director, had at least one irrigation pivot toppled, though he thought it could be placed upright and repaired rather than having to replace it.
Shirah uses that pivot to irrigate 200 acres split between cotton and peanuts. The peanuts, he said, seemed OK, but the cotton will have to be replanted.
Farther east in Clinch County, a separate tornado, rated EF0 by the National Weather Service, damaged blueberries grown by Russ Goodman, who indicated on Facebook that he had a 70% crop loss, or about $1.5 million worth of blueberries.
“It wasn’t the wind so much,” said Goodman, a seventh-generation farmer. “It was the hail that really did the damage. It looks like it was sprayed with Roundup.”
Goodman’s family has four locations where blueberries are grown. The storm damaged the two largest, he said, and with weather-related losses since 2017, it’s adding insult to injury.
“Between everything that’s happened, no one is doing well financially,” Goodman said. “The farmers are about as demoralized as I’ve ever seen.”