Published on 09/09/04

Storm uproots trees, downs limbs across state

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Besides all the downed limbs and debris it left behind, Georgians can thank Hurricane Frances for increased pecan prices this season and higher peach prices next year, University of Georgia experts report.

Pecan and peach trees statewide suffered significant damage from Frances' heavy winds. Both lost limbs, and some were uprooted. Georgia pecan growers are also reporting the loss of a large percentage of nuts.

Supply will be down

"This will create a scarcity of nuts this season and the pecan prices are bound to go up," said Greg Fonsah, an agricultural economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "The nuts lost due to the storm will cause a reduction in production."

Fonsah says Georgia pecan growers were doubly impacted by the hurricane.

"We lost several trees and nuts," he said. "The trees will cost money to replace. But it will cost farmers even more when they plant new trees and wait for them to start bearing. Some farmers might not have or find enough trees to purchase for replanting or replacing the uprooted ones."

This year's peach crop was spared. But next year's will be affected.

"The lost trees will affect the next peach crop period," Fonsah said. "The damage, if significant, will create a reduction in the 2005 crop and will most likely cause prices to be higher, too."

Fonsah says there is also a chance that trees with broken limbs will become vulnerable to pest and disease infestations.

"This is especially possible in south Georgia where disease pressure is high," he said. "If this happens, it will cost Georgia farmers additional money for chemical sprays to keep the pest and disease pressure under control."

Homeowners in clean-up mode

The hurricane also affected homeowners across the state, who will remember its name for weeks as they clean up the debris it left behind.

Thousands of trees are lost each year as a result of ice, wind and lightning damage, said UGA horticulturist Orville Lindstrom. The resulting annual property value loss in Georgia is estimated at more than $10 million. And this doesn't include future liability costs.

"When hardwood trees are injured, a branch will break off, there will be some decay and maybe a weak insect attack," said Lindstrom, a UGA CAES professor. "The damage usually won't kill hardwoods because the trees have such a good food reserve in the root system."

Pine trees are another story.

"If Frances' heavy winds caused your pine trees to lose a big section of the top or the main stem, you probably don't have many alternatives other than taking the tree out," he said. "Pine trees don't store a lot of food in the root system. So when they get injured, they don't have as much to fall back on."

Besides injuring the tree's structure, a large break in a pine tree's top opens a virtual buffet for harmful insects.

"The pine resin starts to come out and sends an open invitation to bark beetles," he said. "They're extremely hard to control, and there aren't any really effective sprays."

Bark beetles fly in, bore through the tree's bark and lay eggs underneath. There the larvae form feeding galleries and introduce a fungus called blue stain. This causes the tree to dry out and eventually die.

If the recent storm left your pine trees with just broken branches, the prognosis is much better.

"Properly prune the branches back to the whorl or main stem," Lindstrom said. "Then you can do a good job of keeping that tree healthy. You'll need to clean up and prune off any broken branches without destroying the form of the tree."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.