Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael ravaged pecan trees and other crops when it came through Southwest Georgia last October.

MOULTRIE, Ga. – The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael is approaching in October, and local farmers are still feeling the impact of the storm.

A Category 5 storm at its peak, Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida panhandle before targeting Georgia in 2018. Decatur County felt the brunt of the hurricane before it moved northeastward, striking Colquitt County a glancing blow compared to areas north and west of it.

In Moultrie, many were left in the dark, literally, as power was down for four days before the city was able to restore it. City trash collectors were still picking up debris from the storm a month later.

And the hurricane’s damaging power could be felt arguably the most in the field of agriculture, the largest industry in Georgia and Colquitt County. The damage was estimated in November to be upwards of $2.5 million and many farmers lost a large amount of their crops to the storm.

“Some more so than others,” said Trey Davis, a farmer in the Doerun area. “Depending on the actual location, the damage was much worse in some places than others.”

The Davis Family Farm grows cotton, peanuts and corn and raises cattle, the former two being the most common and profitable crops grown in Georgia.

“Our corn had all been gathered, and the peanuts weren’t as affected as the cotton,” said Davis, “but we usually bring in around fifteen, sixteen, maybe 1700 pounds of cotton and after Michael we brought in around 400 pounds.”

As Hurricane Dorian churned toward the U.S. late last month, Colquitt County farmers were wary of the weather and feared a repeat of Michael.

“The Georgia cotton industry has suffered $600 million in losses due to Hurricane Michael,” said County Extension Coordinator Jeremy Kichler. “The timing of Hurricane Michael was very devastating to the cotton crop of Colquitt County. A large percentage of the crop was ready to be harvested that week and it was the worst possible timing for a storm to come through.”

The federal disaster relief package signed by President Trump in June of this year touted $19.1 billion offering aid for farmers across southwest Georgia, but no one has received it yet.

“As of now it hasn’t been disbursed,” said Robert Hunnicutt, agency owner of South Georgia Crop Insurance. “We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary and the funds are desperately needed in the agriculture industry. It was approved earlier in the year, and we’re just not really sure why the funds haven’t been released yet.”

Some relief may be coming soon, according to an announcement Monday.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that agricultural producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 can apply for assistance through the newly branded Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+). The program touts $3 billion in aid.

It will be eligible for producers who have suffered eligible losses of crops, trees, bushes or vines via hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms or wildfires that occurred within the 2018 or 2019 time period.  Signup begins today.

“Every year is different,” said Kichler. “Growers have to deal with different production challenges every year. Right now, I think we’ve got a pretty good cotton crop and peanut crop shaping up this year. Since we’ve had storms two years in a row, the possibility of another storm is always in the back of our minds.”

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