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Alabama’s cotton farmers lose $100 million while Timberland owners suffer nearly $20 million loss from Hurricane Michael

Brandon Moseley

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Farmers and forestland owners in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas were severely impacted by Hurricane Michael. Most of Alabama was spared the damage that our neighbors in Florida and Georgia suffered, but the Wiregrass and particularly Houston County in southeast Alabama was not so lucky. Preliminary estimates from helicopter show heavy damage to the forests in Houston County. The Wiregrass region has also suffered tremendous agricultural losses. Alabama’s cotton farmers have lost an estimated $100 million alone.

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) recently toured the area.

“As Hurricane Michael recovery efforts continue, we are gradually learning the full scale of damages portions of our district are facing,” Rep. Roby said. “The setback for the agriculture industry is severe, to say the least. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, I traveled to the Wiregrass to see firsthand what some of our farmers are experiencing. The devastation is heartbreaking.”

“Agricultural damage from Hurricane Michael across Alabama, Florida, and Georgia is projected to top $1.3 billion in total losses, with cotton, pecans, and poultry commodities hit the hardest,” Rep. Roby said. “An expert with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System estimates the loss to our state’s cotton crop alone could eclipse $100 million. That sum does not include the impact the storm had on livestock, peanuts, and timber. When I was on the ground in the Wiregrass, I even saw 1,500 acres of cucumbers that might not make it to harvest. Our farmers are in the midst of a very real crisis.”

“In the wake of this disaster, Governor Kay Ivey requested that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declare our hurricane-damaged counties in Alabama as agriculture disaster areas. She also requested the maximum assistance be made available to our state through existing Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs,” Roby stated.

The Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has performed aerial surveys indicating that 42,357 forested acres in the state were damaged by Hurricane Michael with Houston County being the hardest hit.
Timberland owners in Southeast Alabama are estimated to have lost almost $20 million in value according to AFC estimates. The AFC reported last week that 42,357 forested acres were damaged by the storm, with estimated losses totaling a value of $19,916,759. Forest Inventory and Analysis data was used to compute the damage by forest type in the impact area. 13,396 acres of pine trees; 2,879 acres of hardwood forest; and 26,085 acres of mixed pine/hardwood forest were damaged.

Storm-damaged timber must be recovered in a timely manner if it is to be utilized, so forest owners should not delay in surveying their property.
Worse all the drying timber on the ground will create fuel for wildfires, and compromised timber is also more susceptible to southern pine beetle attack.

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State Forester Rick Oates says forest owners should not rush into having their trees clear cut without getting a professional to evaluate the situation.

“Some folks have been growing their timber 10, 15, 25 or even more years,” said Oates. “They need to take the time to make a sound decision, based on solid advice from a registered forester.”

If your timber property sustained damage from Hurricane Michael contact the Alabama Forestry Commission at (334) 260-6260 or send an email to [email protected]

Organizations including Alabama 2-1-1, United Way, The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, and other local groups are working to help those affected by Hurricane Michael. Alabama Emergency Management Agency is supporting local EMA’s and state agencies as they work toward recovery.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Farmer’s Federation Elishia Ballentine contributed to this report.)

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