Irma’s Aftermath

We were very fortunate in Thomas County since the eye passed east of us. Our winds were in the 40s with gusts in the 70s. There is still obvious damage to our field crops. Here are some pictures of what we have now:

Peanuts

The only negative effect will be altering our digging time, if the field needed to be dug in that time period. We had some peanuts already inverted, but they are drying and will be picked this week. The soil is drying with a few days of sunny weather.

Cotton

It’s about 50/50 with wind damaged fields. Where wind hit hard, cotton is all tangled up. And any bolls/lint that fell off the plant is for sure lost. This is going to affect us on our picking efficiency and spraying. UGA Extension Cotton Agronomist Dr. Jared Whitaker says, “One thing to consider is that cotton that is just beginning to open is the heaviest it will be throughout its life and when opening proceeds, it will allow the plant to stand up.  However, one thing that I’ve seen that I haven’t in the past with blown over cotton is the “rooting out” around the stem at the ground level due to winds from several different directions. This could complicate the issue of cotton standing up and exacerbate the issue of standing up.”

There is more damage to younger cotton that will not be known at this time. Right now, you see a lot of reddening of the plant at the top. This is from stress, but multiple factors can cause this stress. We looked a blown over field today where it was obvious whiteflies were not treated. You will also notice stemphyllium leaf spot this time of year with loss of potassium. But the wind can also cause this symptom, and will hurt cotton in providing energy to those bolls.

Pecans

UGA Extension Horticulturalist Dr. Lenny Wells’ preliminary estimate is that about 30% of the state’s total pecan crop has been lost. This has become the most damaging wind event ever seen by the Georgia pecan industry. Again, most of the damage east and north of us. In Thomas County, we are a little under that 30% based on what I am seeing.

We mostly have limbs / nuts lost, but also some trees down. These are similar trees we lost with Hurricane Hermine – mostly in that 5 – 15 age range. Here is some more information from Dr. Wells:

Growers should take photos of their damage and report it to their local FSA office in order to receive financial assistance with cleanup. Cleanup funds normally pay 75% of the USDA-set cost of a mature tree ($300) up to a maximum of $200,000 per entity. Younger trees will be valued at varying levels depending upon age. In addition, the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) will pay for tree loss when 15% or more of the orchard is destroyed. This pays 65% of the cost of the tree up to a maximum of $120,000 per entity.

This money is not available immediately but your FSA office will gather your report. Requests for cleanup funds are made to Congress and they will then appropriate the funds so it may take a while.

Growers have many questions regarding how to handle fallen trees and the mass of green nuts blown from the trees. The success of righting blown down trees varies considerably with age of the tree. Trees less than 8-10 years old (trunk diameter < about 10 inches) can generally be righted with pretty good success, if leaning less than 45 degrees. Success rate is highly variable when leaning more than 45 degrees.  Success of righting these trees will be much greater when trees are pruned back as if they were to be transplanted with a tree spade because the newly-limited root system must be able to support the tree that remains. The larger the tree, the more you should prune off when righting.

Uprooted trees or those lying flat on the ground should be removed, especially large, mature trees. Such trees often never perform as they should and will be likely to be blown down again at a later date. Uprooted trees usually exhibit visible broken roots on the side opposite of the direction of fall. The major roots on the opposite side of the tree are also generally broken as well. Such trees usually have much more root damage than is apparent.

I’ve had many questions about salvaging the green nuts blown onto the ground and having them de-shucked. In most cases, the expense involved in this will outweigh  the benefit. While there are a significant number of nuts on the ground, in most cases, the volume will be less than most growers think. Pawnee shucks were splitting or open and many of these nuts came out of the shuck and are on the ground. Many would have been ready for harvest this week so these nuts can be salvaged once the debris is cleaned up. Early October harvest nuts like Caddo, Oconee, Elliott, Moneymaker etc. may be far enough along to attempt de-shucking if growers are inclined to do so. However, they need to bear in mind the cost of an additional harvest, transport, cleaning, and de-shucking when making this decision. Later varieties like Desirable, Stuart, Cape Fear, Sumner,. etc. are likely not mature enough for de-shucking even though the kernels may be filled out. If the nut does not pop out of the shuck when stepped on or rolled with your foot or if the shell is still white and the markings have not developed growers should not attempt de-shucking.

There is potential for further damage to appear at a later date from nuts getting knocked around in the storm. This often bruises or damages the shuck and affects development or maturity of the nut and may lead to stick-tights. However, my early observations are that this bruising is minimal. I do not see a lot of bruising as of yet on the shucks so I am hopeful  but it is still a bit early to tell whether or not we will escape this type of damage.

All in all, the Georgia pecan industry has suffered a significant blow but it could have been much worse than it is given the severity of the storm.

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