Hurricane Michael deals heavy blow to Alabama agriculture

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By Toni Stauffer

In a media release dated Oct. 24, Auburn University released details about damages left in the wake of Hurricane Michael. The hurricane caused an estimated total of $204 million in agricultural damage. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Director Gary Lemme called it a devastating blow to farmers in Alabama’s Wiregrass region.

According to Lemme, Cotton farmers suffered the worst losses, but row crops, livestock, poultry and timber, as well as fruits and vegetables, were also heavily hit. Losses were evaluated by Alabama Extension in the counties of Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell.

Houston County suffered more than $100 million in damages, while Geneva County suffered a $39 million loss and Henry County had more than $30 million in damages. The region’s 200,000 plus acres of cotton suffered a loss of almost $108 million. The loss for peanuts is more than $11 million, and $1.7 million is the total for corn and soybeans.

While Livestock deaths were low, operations took significant damages. Costs for fencing replacement are around $18 million, and debris removal costs total about $5.6 million.

Structural damage to farms and agribusinesses reached near $11.9 million, and about close to 200 pivot irrigation systems were destroyed.

The loss for timber, especially pines of which many were snapped midtrunk or toppled by high winds, comes in at almost $20.9 million. The damage has affected pine straw production with an estimated loss of about $11.8 million.

While large producers did take significant damage, the hurricane was catastrophic for smaller outfits who lost entire crops. Tomato losses are in the 60 to 75 percent range. Greenhouse and pecan losses are estimated to be near $3.5 million.

According to Lemme, these estimated damages will be included in an Alabama Extension report reflecting the storm’s economic impact on the region will be submitted on Nov. 1 to Alabama’s congressional delegation and the USDA. Since farm income directly affects the robustness of local businesses, Lemme said that the Extension must begin to evaluate the total economic loss for the region now that the estimates are complete.