Published on 09/14/99

Floyd Threatens Georgia Agriculture

Hurricane Floyd could strike a major blow to Georgia crops. The 140-mph-plus sustained winds in Floyd could cause more damage than even hurricane-related water damage, say University of Georgia scientists.

Pecan crop in particular danger

Georgia's pecan crop is in particular danger. "The trees are really loaded with green nuts right now," said Tom Crocker, an Extension Service horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Wind from Floyd could easily break the already stressed branches right off the tree."

Crocker said about 30 percent of Georgia's pecan orchards are in the southeast corner of the state. Experts have estimated the 1999 crop at 100 million pounds, and economists say prices are likely to be strong, too, with low carry-in stocks.

But wind damage from Floyd could change all that, Crocker said. "Unfortunately, we'll just have to wait and see."

Cotton lint vulnerable to wind

Cotton farmers are in much the same situation. But with harvest already under way in many areas, some farmers may have already made their crop more susceptible to wind damage.

Extension cotton scientist Glen Harris said some fields have already been defoliated, so the leaves aren't there to provide some protection against the wind. His advice to cotton growers: "If the field has been defoliated, try to go ahead and get that cotton picked. If you haven't defoliated, don't yet."

Leafy cotton plants can also provide support to each other, preventing further losses from plants breaking under the wind, which can make them nearly impossible to harvest.

A combination of rain and heavy wind could be disastrous for Georgia cotton farmers. Rain can weigh down and string out open cotton bolls, making the crop more susceptible to strong winds. Once cotton hits the ground, it's gone, Harris said.

Soybeans helped more than hurt, but wind damage probable

Soybeans in southeast Georgia are likely to take a hit, too, said Paul Raymer, a research agronomist with the CAES. "The crop, overall, will be helped more than hurt by rain from Floyd," he said. "But wind at more than about 40 mph could cause lodging - the plants to bend and break - and cause problems at harvest."

He also noted that fields that have come through the drought and still look good are the ones most likely to be hurt by Floyd's wind and rain. About 60 percent of the Georgia soybean crop is grown in the area most likely to be hit by Floyd.

To dig or not to dig? That is the question for peanut farmers

Peanut farmers are facing relatively good news. "Wind is a 'non-factor' for peanuts," said John Beasley, an extension peanut agronomist.

That leaves southeast Georgia peanut farmers asking one very important question: To dig or not to dig? Beasley offers these rules:

* If the vines are in good shape, leave them in the ground until the storm passes and fields are dry.

* If vines are in poor condition and could not stand several days of wet conditions, dig immediately. Waiting could cause heavy losses. Once they're out of the ground, storm-soaked vines can dry quickly and be harvested. Waiting can further weaken vines, resulting in more peanuts falling off during digging.

"As dry as it's been, several inches of rain probably won't hurt," Beasley said. "If the system stalls and brings 10-plus inches of rain, we could have problems later getting back into fields on a timely basis."