• By Clint Thompson •
What was an extremely promising Georgia cotton crop was devastated when Hurricane Michael ravaged south Georgia Oct. 10-11. According to Jared Whitaker, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension cotton agronomist, the prospects of 1,500 to 1,800 pounds of dryland cotton for some producers were reduced, resulting in 80 to 90 percent losses in some fields.
“It’s much worse than I thought it would be,” Whitaker says. “But it does depend on where your field is located. Southwest of (Tifton, Georgia), it’s terrible, in Bainbridge and Donalsonville. Even if you consider the line from Cordele to Augusta, pictures I’ve received from Washington County will make you feel sick.”
Whitaker had such high hopes for this year’s crop that he believed it would have broken the state yield record. Blake Crabtree, UGA Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Worth County, agrees.
“We talked to one farmer last weekend who was picking in a field and said it was averaging between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds. They started back picking (Sunday) and it was averaging about 700 pounds,” Crabtree says. “I’m thinking we’ve got about a bale or two bales per acre of loss. You can ride by these cotton fields and see it laying all on the ground.”
Timing as everything
What made Hurricane Michael even more destructive was timing. Although it’s never ideal to experience a hurricane during the growing season, a storm strike in early October, when cotton is near harvest, made the impact even more severe. Whitaker estimates that more than 60 percent of this year’s crop was extremely susceptible to storm damage.
Growers are now faced with the gloomy prospect of trying to move forward and deciding what to do with the cotton left in the field.
“I think what we do from here on out is going to vary in a lot of places. In some places I’ve seen, I don’t think we’ll even pull a picker in there to harvest the crop. I think we lost so much cotton that it wouldn’t be profitable to even harvest it,” Whitaker says.
In southeast Georgia, farmers slipped by with as little as 15 percent loss compared to southwest Georgia, where farmers could be looking at total losses in some fields, he says.
Whitaker estimates that 15 percent of this year’s crop was already picked before Hurricane Michael arrived, while a small portion of the crop was planted late enough to be relatively safe.
The Georgia Cotton Commission encourages producers to document damage and losses before, during and after cleanup and to keep financial records of cleanup and repair.
Whitaker adds that producers should contact their local UGA Extension agents to report any losses or for more information about estimating storm damage.
Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton. The University of Georgia contributed this article.