WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2016 - By many accounts, Hurricane Matthew wasn’t as bad as initially predicted, but that doesn’t mean the storm left ag producers in the Southeast unscathed.
Matthew danced up the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina late last week before eventually heading out to sea Saturday night. So far, it has been blamed for at least 34 deaths across five states, but damage figures aren’t yet known. One thing is for sure: It could have been worse.
“Any additional challenge during an already challenging year is unwelcome, but when you look at what it could have been, we still leave the event with a lot to be thankful for,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.
Black said that many of the state’s staple commodities will be impacted, but not devastated by the storm. The state’s peach harvest was completed long before the hurricane came close, the peanut harvest was mostly done, and Matthew didn’t reach pecan production areas. Of the peanuts that are still in the ground, there will be some losses due to the amount of rain that came with the storm, but some areas were dry enough that the moisture will actually help.
The main commodity to watch in Georgia and in neighboring states will be cotton. With harvest about to begin, many of the cotton bolls had opened up, exposing the fiber to the elements. The wind and rain accompanying the storms either destroyed or dislodged the fibers, and losses with that commodity could be sizable. Black said he wasn’t aware of any facility damage or loss among the state’s poultry producers.
In North Carolina, “we’re looking at significant crop losses” in certain counties, Brian Long, public affairs director for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told Agri-Pulse. He said the cotton yield, which “was expected to be pretty good,” will be hurt by the storm.
“Any crop that was still in the field there is going to have impacts,” he said. Many fields are under water and will be for some time, “and even when that water recedes the fields themselves will be in poor condition,” he said.
Aside from cotton, Long said the state’s sweet potato crop (North Carolina is the nation’s top producer) will be impacted. Losses in the state’s animal ag sector were hard to gauge, but Long said he heard possibly 1.5 million-1.7 million birds were lost in the poultry sector.
In a release, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture also mentions a “significant loss of the cotton crop” as well as a “moderate” loss of soybeans. In addition, South Carolina reported losses of about 203,000 birds.
In Florida, the state’s citrus industry was terrified about what a Category 4 hurricane would do to a citrus crop almost ready for harvest, but the damage was greatly mitigated as the hurricane never made landfall in the state. Andrew Meadows with Florida Citrus Mutual said early estimates are for losses of “no more than 10 percent.” The Florida Citrus Commission also voted last week to allow processors to use grapefruit with slightly lower sugar solids-to-acids ratio. The new ratio, effective through Jan. 4, is seven to one; it was eight to one, which would have required fruit to spend more time on the tree to achieve.
A common theme among the officials Agri-Pulse communicated with for this story was that the true impact of the storm won’t be known for some time. For example, some North Carolina rivers still hadn’t crested when Long spoke to Agri-Pulse, so the impact of the high water wasn’t fully known. He said the state has set up a phone number (1-866-645-9403) for producers experiencing damages, and there has been a “steady call volume” since the storm began. None of the states could offer a timeline on when final damage figures could be expected.
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