The number 16 may be sweet for some, but farmer Ryan Jenkins will forever associate it with saturated, damaged crops. Hurricane Sally dumped anywhere from 15 to 30 inches of rain across his Florida Panhandle and southwestern Alabama farm on Wednesday, Sept. 16 — exactly 16 years to the day of when Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm, made landfall at nearly the exact spot and nearly the same time of day.
“Ivan has been the hurricane everyone uses as a benchmark here — it did so much damage,” said Jenkins. “Now Sally has torn us up.”
Jenkins had what he considered possibly his best cotton and peanut crops ever before Hurricane Sally hit. He often talked about the importance of “not counting his chickens before they’d hatched.”
Hurricane season came early this year and Jenkins had already watched 19 named storms work their way around him or fizzle this summer. Then, came Sally.
“We’ve got water in places I’ve never seen water. The cotton is mostly flat on the ground. Cotton that was over waist tall before the storm is not even knee high. We already have cotton seed sprouting in bolls that had started to open,” he said. “I suspect we’ve lost half our crop.”
The upside for cotton is it had just started to open. The damage to cotton would have been more severe had it occurred in early October.
Jenkins made the decision to put off digging peanuts when it became evident Sally was determined to visit. Other farmers in the area had already begun the digging process and have peanuts sitting on top of the ground waiting to be picked.
“We have fields sitting under water, so we won’t know what things are going to look like for a few days,” he said. His big concern right now for peanuts is that aflatoxin might set in and cause grade and profit losses.
“I’ve been through a lot of these events, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. It tears your heart out a little bit when you work so hard on something and see how good it is going to be and think there’s a chance I can do good this year — or at least breakeven, which at current prices would be doing good,” he said. He took out hurricane insurance, which was offered for the first time this year. However, Jenkins said the trigger for coverage is wind, not rainfall totals.
Along with crop damage, trees are down and bridges washed away, but Jenkins was giving thanks for the safety of family and friends.
“I’ve had so many people trying to reach out to me and ask how we are. It’s enough to make you cry to be honest — there’s a lot of emotion in all of this.
“We, as a farming community, really appreciate all the kind words and thoughts and offers for help. It does really make a difference.
“Hurricanes are part of living in the Gulf region. Because we are all dryland production, we also need them to stir up important rainfall to keep us going. But, we prefer to measure it in inches, not feet,” Jenkins said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com
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