Published on 09/09/04

Frazzled by Frances, farmers anxiously eyeing Ivan

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Tropical Depression Frances hurt many crops in Georgia, some worse than others. But Hurricane Ivan, now churning in the Caribbean Sea, could do much more damage.

Pecan farmers along the Georgia-Florida border got hit hard, said Mickey Fourakers, the University of Georgia Extension Service's Lowndes County coordinator.

Pecans drop

There wasn't an orchard in the county that didn't lose limbs and many nuts from trees, he said. Shiloh Farms there had at least 500 pecan trees knocked down by Frances' more than 40-mile-per- hour winds.

To the east of Lowndes County, vegetable farmers in Echols County suffered a 30- to 40-percent loss in some fields, Fourakers said. Plants were knocked down by the winds or drowned by the 10-plus inches of rain.

"There's been a lot of damage in this area," he said. "We need a chance to dry out a little for the rest of our crops."

But if Hurricane Ivan hits this area again, he said, and drops 5 to 10 inches of rain, the damage for crops will be severe across the board in south-central Georgia.

(Thursday, Ivan was a category 5 hurricane. Some projected paths had it entering the Gulf of Mexico, making a landfall in the Florida Panhandle and stretching into Georgia.)

Damage to pecan orchards around Albany, Ga., the hub of pecan production in Georgia, was spotty, said Lenny Wells, Dougherty Count Extension Service coordinator.

"Some orchards were heavily affected while others got by in pretty good shape," he said. "It's hard to tell at this point just how much the overall crop will be affected."

Tropical worry

Georgia's peanut crop was at a stage in its development to sustain only minor damage from Frances, said John Beasley, a peanut agronomist with the UGA Extension Service.

Based on the maturity of the crop, experts predicted Georgia's peanut harvest would begin this week, the week of Labor Day. But with the forecast of Frances' arrival, many farmers may have postponed immediate harvest plans, Beasley said.

Some peanuts in extreme southwest Georgia have been dug. Peanuts already dug could have some problems drying and being picked.

But the arrival of Ivan within the next week could be much worse for Georgia's peanut crop, Beasley said.

Most of Georgia's corn crop was already harvested and out of the way of Frances. About 70 percent of the crop has been picked. "But what was left was certainly hurt by the winds and rains," said Dewey Lee, a corn agronomist with the UGA Extension Service.

Georgia's cotton crop "is vulnerable at this time," said Steve Brown, a UGA Extension cotton agronomist.

Most of the crop doesn't need any more water to grow and mature, he said. Cotton lint that had already emerged from bolls will probably be damaged or dropped from plants, making it unable to be harvested. There could be a 10- to 20-percent decline in yields across the state, he said.

"You don't want much wind or rain when you get to this stage of the cotton crop," Brown said. "If we get any more like we recently had, it could be seriously detrimental."

Charles Cowart, a muscadine farmer, figures he lost possibly 50 percent of the muscadine crop on his 160 acres of vineyards in Calhoun County in southwest Georgia.

"We were picking as hard as we could up until Sunday night," Cowart said. Until then, he was able to harvest 44 boxes a day. (A box of muscadines is about 1,860 pounds.) Cowart was able to get back into his vineyards Wednesday, only to find and harvest about 8.5 boxes for the day.

Heavy winds broke support wires and slapped vines, he said, causing muscadines to drop to the ground.

Cowart has about 40 acres left to pick. He hopes to get to them before Ivan possibly does next week.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.