Hurricane Michael devastated Georgia agriculture during the most inopportune time; harvest season for many agricultural commodities. One of those commodities included peanuts, where 50 percent of the crop had been harvested. The remaining 50 percent is yet to be harvested as crop conditions deteriorate and damaged peanut buying points struggle to regain power to dry and grade the peanuts. Many unknowns remain about the devastation of the 2018 Georgia peanut crop.
The Georgia Peanut Commission has been meeting with federal and state officials discussing the current state of the peanut crop and impact on peanut infrastructure. Although it is too early to estimate the financial impact of the disaster, the GPC, working with state and federal officials, will determine as best possible the impact on growers and the industry’s infrastructure once the peanut crop is harvested.
“Hurricane Michael for peanut farmers is still an invisible problem in some locations because we have peanuts in the ground that haven’t been dug yet and major infrastructure issues with buying points not being able to dry the peanuts or grade them,” says Don Koehler, GPC executive director.
According to the Oct. 15, 2018, crop condition index report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, the crop condition index for Georgia peanuts dropped 12 percent since the hurricane came through.
“This is the largest decline in the crop condition index over the past years,” says Stanley Fletcher, professor of policy at the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
“It’s really too early to tell the exact loss the peanut industry may face,” says Scott Monfort, University of Georgia Extension agronomist for peanuts. “There are a lot of factors in play to determine the estimated loss due to delayed harvest in areas where farmers can’t get into the field or issues with infrastructure at peanut buying points where peanuts can’t be dried or graded without power.”
Farmers like Tim Burch of Baker County, Georgia, have not been able to harvest their entire crop. Burch has only been able to harvest 100 of his 600 acres of peanuts.
“This year’s near perfect crop has been nearly destroyed,” Burch says. “The infrastructure has been crippled and if buying points can’t operate, then farmers can’t get back in the field to harvest their crop. We need fair weather for a month so we can get in the remainder of the peanut crop.”
Decatur County farmer Andy Bell agrees with Burch and adds that it is difficult for farmers to get back in the field while they survey the severely injured peanut plants and wonder what type of yield remains below the ground.
“Many of the late planted peanuts are showing vine damage with loss of leaves on the vine and the remaining vine turning yellow,” Bell says. “Simply put, nutrient to the plant is not happening.”
Bell adds, many farmers had to make a choice prior to the hurricane and combine what they had dug under terrible circumstances including wet field conditions. He estimates an average loss of 1,000 pounds per acre in fields harvested prior to the hurricane. Bell says, it remains to be seen the loss following the hurricane from loose shelled kernels, debris in the field and peanut grade, which ultimately lowers the price the farmer receives.
“The process of getting our food from the farmer’s field into our consumers’ hands encompasses a variety of components that often go unnoticed,” says Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black. “Our farmers depend on these resources and infrastructures to be operational, so they can finish the job they started. We are actively working to assist our partners in repairing damages and regaining power, so the agricultural community can continue with the imLongtimeask in hand.”
Long time buying point operator, Wesley Powell, owner of Dollar Brothers, Inc. in Decatur County, Georgia, is devastated by the damage.
“In my 30 years of operating Dollar Brothers, this is by far the worst I’ve ever seen and the only insurance claim I have filed in 30 years,” he says. “We had extensive damage to the peanut drying facility and peanut warehouse.”
Powell adds, farmers in his area are slowly getting back into the fields and delivering peanuts to his buying point. He is using generators at this time to dry and grade the peanuts as they are delivered, but it is a slow process compared to normal conditions.
The GPC encourages farmers to attend an upcoming Georgia Farm Service Agency Agriculture Disaster Assistance Meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22 at 2:00 p.m. at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center. Representatives from the USDA FSA, National Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development and Risk Management Agency will be available to provide updates and information regarding disaster programs available for farmers affected by Hurricane Michael.
The GPC plans to continue working with state and federal officials on disaster assistance for growers and industry. As more information becomes available, updates will be added to the GPC website at www.gapeanuts.com.