By David B. Strickland
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — When Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida panhandle on Oct. 9, it became the strongest storm on record for this part of the country, as well as being the fourth strongest storm to come ashore on the continental United States.
The storm is being attributed to causing, as of Oct. 28, 60 human fatalities and more than $11.3 billion in damage. The city of Mexico Beach, Fla., received extreme devastation. As the Category 4 hurricane moved inland through several states toward the Chesapeake Bay it weakened to a tropical storm, but caused tremendous damage — a large portion of this sustained by agricultural industries.
As Florida continues its restoration efforts to help those who lost their homes, clean-up and assessment is being constantly made to the state’s agriculture industries. Timber in the area of the storm’s landfall is being estimated at $1.3 billion in losses affecting nearly 3 million acres of forestland.
“This is a catastrophic loss to the forest industry in the Florida panhandle,” said Adam H. Putnam, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We are committed to helping Florida recover from this devastating storm and will continue to work closely with the agriculture industry on hurricane-related damage assessments . . . We’ll remain steadfast in our efforts to determine the scope of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael and to seek whatever assistance may be available to support the agriculture industry during this time of need.”
More information can be obtained at www.FloridaDisaster.org.
In Alabama, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System is estimating agricultural damage in the state at approximately $204 million.
“Cotton farmers suffered the greatest losses,” said Gary Lemme, ACES director. “But the storm affected every portion of Wiregrass agriculture, including row crops, livestock, poultry and timber as well as fruit and vegetable production.”
The department is estimating cotton losses in Alabama at about $108 million. For poultry, Alabama is noting that it fared better than Georgia. Alabama poultry losses are being estimated at $1.4 million.
Forest and timber also sustained great loss in Alabama, with timber destruction estimates at about $20.9 million.
“The forest impact goes beyond downed trees to pine straw production,” Lemme said. “We estimate pine straw losses at about $11.8 million.”
“Farm income directly affects the health of the area’s local businesses,” he added. “We are starting at $204 million in ag losses alone, but the economic impact will be much greater. It is far too easy to focus only on actual losses. We must also understand the total impact on the region’s economy in the coming months and years.”
In Georgia, broilers are the state’s leading agricultural commodity. Losses to the poultry industry are being projected at an estimated $25 million, with the destruction of 97 poultry houses and the loss of more than 2 million chickens, the Georgia Department of Agriculture reports.
Other Georgia crop losses from the storm are estimated at: timber, $762 million; cotton, $300-800 million; peanuts, $10-20 million; pecans, $560 million; produce (such as corn, cucumbers, squash, peppers, peas and tomatoes), $480 million.
The GDA also notes that this marks the third straight year the Georgia pecan industry was impacted by storms, and that this kind of loss has a generational impact as pecan trees need about seven years to begin producing pecans for market.
“These estimations are a clear indicator of the unfortunate devastation many of our farmers and farm families have had to endure,” said Gary W. Black, Georgia agriculture commissioner. “These staggering numbers are tough to read, but Georgia farmers have shown great resilience through this unsettling time and we will continue to stand with them.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has called for a special state legislative session to begin on Nov. 13, where he will request the state legislature take immediate action on rapid response for storm recovery efforts in southwest Georgia.
More information about Georgia’s hurricane response can be obtained at www.agr.georgia.gov/gda-hurricane-response.aspx.