MOULTRIE -- While Bonnie's rains were a blessing, Charley's and Frances' rains were a curse for county farmers. Now, Ivan looms large and could ruin the fall harvest in Colquitt County if it delivers the wind and rain warned by forecasters.
Cotton yield potential was about 800 pounds, which would have ranked this year's crop the fourth best crop on record, Colquitt County Extension Agent Scott Brown said. But with the lint loss already suffered because of Frances, that aspiration is gone with the wind.
Some county farmers lost directly from the storm as little as 25 pounds per acre. Some lost as much as 300-plus pounds per acre, he said
Average lint loss, factoring in direct loss from the wind and rain and cotton lost when machine harvesting through tangled stalks, is about 160 pounds per acre for the county, he said. Another problem is the loss of physical integrity of the burrs. Burrs shatter in the picker, thus scattering the lint, lessening the amount of lint the picker collects.
Twenty to 25 percent of the county's cotton was planted late and still has green bolls that were blown to the ground by the storm. Those green bolls on the ground will likely rot, resulting in more loss, Brown said. Plus, damage to leaves will result in reduced boll fill.
Those potential problems haven't been factored in yet.
Ivan's predicted high winds would devastate crops in Colquitt County, Farmer's Gin and Peanut Co. Manager John Ladson said.
"We're at 10 to 20 percent loss; we would have to add another 40 to 50 percent to that," he said.
But South Georgia's bad luck in production likely won't be offset by higher prices at market. U.S. cotton is up 14 percent from last year. World production is up also, so lower prices are likely to remain even in the face of a Georgia disaster, Ladson said.
Less than 5 percent of county farmers were impacted directly by Frances, Brown said. But conditions might not dry out enough to dig up peanuts before the next storm, so losses likely will go up.
"Should we get soil saturation next week, we're going to have potentially some fairly significant losses to peanuts from delayed digging off of these two storms," he said.
Frances blew down more than 90 percent of the county's corn. The storms will have relatively little impact on Colquitt County's 3,000 acres of soybeans.
Surveying his fields this week, produce grower Ray Gene Williams found some of his cabbage transplanted on Aug. 15 drowned.
"Once it flops in the field, it doesn't normally come back. As young as these are, it might. But I do believe we've had damage," he said.
Williams also has seen pepper plants and squash blown down.
"If Ivan comes through Colquitt County, not only the folks who haven't gotten the cotton and peanuts out will be ruined, probably all the produce people will be too," he said, adding it's too much of a gamble to transplant cabbage after Sept. 15.
The spring produce season was, in a word, terrible. A glut in supply drove down prices, and farmers were hoping to make up the difference with the fall crop, Colquitt County Extension Agent Glenn Beard said.
"Right now, we're needing a long growing season to make up for the spring," Beard said, adding that the wet weather means farmers will have to spend more money trying to combat insects and disease.
When plants are stressed they become predisposed to disease, he said. The county's pepper crop already was infiltrated with bacterial leaf spot. Downy mildew has become a problem in squash. Greens have developed pythium disease.
"Every time you have a storm like that it brings in all types of diseases that may have been blown up here from the Caribbean or wherever," he said.
The accumulation of recent rains has become too much of a good thing. Cucumbers, for instance, will stop growing altogether if soil is waterlogged.
"If we get another slug of rain like that, we may just end up with a lot of drowned plants out there," said the county agent. "It's just unprecedented we will get the effects of three hurricanes back-to-back-to-back like that -- really four if you include Bonnie."