MOULTRIE -- Two hurricanes and a tropical storm have left Colquitt County crops waterlogged. The county's number one produce crop, peppers, was devastated with losses from 85 to 90 percent.

The wet weather has proliferated disease in the fall pepper crop, said Colquitt County Extension Agent Glenn Beard.

The high prices on produce won't help matters much.

"If you don't have any product to sell, it doesn't really mean anything," Beard said.

By this time, about 75 percent of the crop should have been harvested, but inclement weather has stymied farmers so that only 25 percent of produce has been picked. Local produce farmers are facing a 50 to 60 percent reduction in fall vegetable income, he said.

"It'll probably be more than that when it's all said and done. And if you couple that with the situation we had in the spring with produce, it's been a total disaster this year with produce," the University of Georgia agricultural agent said.

Temperatures are likely to dip in the coming weeks, particularly at night. Cooler temperatures mean slower growth in vegetables. Some warm weather-loving crops, such as squash and cucumbers, might cease growing altogether, he said.

Loss is heavy in row crops, although not as bad.

Cumulative damage from the three storms that hit Colquitt County will slash value of the total cotton crop by 32 percent from the last week of August, Colquitt County Extension Agent Scott said. Of course, some farmers will suffer a greater loss; some won't see much loss at all, he said.

Before the storms, farmers were able to pick 3,000 acres out of 59,000 acres planted. Before Tropical Storm Jeanne on Monday, one-third of the county's cotton had been picked, most in the Doerun area in the western part of the county and only some in the eastern part.

Cotton grades were good before Hurricane Frances, the first in the local storm series, and yields were shaping up to be the third best crop on record before the storms, Brown said.

Tropical Storm Jeanne impacted Colquitt cotton in direct loss more than Hurricanes Frances and Ivan, he said.

"We took a beating, but we still came out with a crop," he said. "We need every lock of it between technology fees, increased costs of fuel, amount of irrigation we had to put into it and extra cost for fertilizer, all those parameters made this crop more expensive."

It's still too boggy to get pickers into the fields to harvest row crops. Farmers are chomping at the bit for the ground to dry. Brown said he's heard crop dusters are backed up 10 days or so to defoliate cotton.

"They're all going to get out there as soon as the weather's going to allow them to," he said, adding the cotton harvest should be in full swing by the first of the week.

Don Tillman, manager of BCT Gin in Berlin, speculates a 3- to 4-cent reduction in price because of diminished quality in an already low market.

"I'm scared it's just going to be downhill on the grades," he said. "China and everybody's going to have a good crop. What we do in Georgia doesn't matter anymore. So, now we've got that working against us too."

The eastern side of the county got five to six inches of rain off Jeanne, Tillman said.

"The one before it wasn't as bad, but this one really worked on us," he said.

BCT markets peanuts too. A lot of their planters can't get into the wet fields to pick.

Peanuts are severely backed up in digging and in harvesting all over the county, Brown said. County farmers are 10 to 12 days behind in digging and that could mean 10 and 20 percent of loss. Last week, picking nearly came to a standstill as planters tried to locate trailers to haul them in, he said.

Some peanuts picked before Jeanne are now being fluffed and shook.

"I even saw one field being dug this morning, which was almost unbelievable. I didn't figure anybody would have been able to dig anything for a few more days," he said.

Brown predicts a reduction in yield due to delayed digging. Five days of delayed digging could reduce yield by 200 to 500 pounds per acre. Cooler temperatures might lessen the severity of yield loss, he said.

One bright spot: Peanut grades are good. That's to be expected, Brown said, with more peanuts allowed to mature on the vine.

"It's not very easy to quantify. We're going to have to wait to see what we've got," he said.

Brown is eager to compare cotton and peanut fields partially harvested before Jeanne with what is picked afterward.

"That's not necessarily a real scientific way to do it, but that's the only measuring stick we have. We'll get a real good picture of what some of the losses are on some of this," he said.

"Everything's tough this year," Tillman said, adding that the further east, the more row crop lost. "Farmers need all the help they can get this year."

Meanwhile at the capitol, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, appealed to the committee's chairman for more funds to address the growing agricultural crisis in South Georgia.

"The president's request for only $400 million for all of the nation's agricultural producers suffering crop losses is far from adequate," Bishop said. "Our initial estimates for the state of Georgia alone calculate a loss of approximately $400 million due to hurricanes Charley and Frances; once damages from Ivan and Jeanne are included this number will increase dramatically.

"Federal assistance will be crucial to alleviating the short- and long-term impact that these storms will have on our family farmers. The unprecedented barrage of storms this year has caused incalculable devastation, but the losses of Georgia's farmers must not go unrecognized," said the congressman.

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