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Hurricane Michael Threatens Southeast’s Crops and Livestock

As Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday, farmers in the Southeast were still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence just weeks ago. Michael, which brought 155 mph winds and could dump several inches of rain on the region, was threatening crops and livestock from the Florida panhandle to North Carolina.

Pecan, cotton, and peanut harvests were at risk, as the dangerous storm plowed its way through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused the loss of 10% of the Southeast’s pecan trees, which blew over in the wind. With Michael’s excessive rain and winds, unharvested peanuts could rot in the ground and cotton bolls could be stripped from the plants.

“The track of the hurricane is almost like you could call it the Southeast Cotton Industry Hurricane, because it’s coming in to Panama City, and there’s about 140,000 acres of cotton in the Florida panhandle,” David Ruppenicker, CEO of Southern Cotton Growers, told CNBC.

Although farmers in the region were reportedly working around the clock to harvest as much as possible before the storm arrived, much of the season’s crop remained in the ground. As of October 7, only 58% of Florida’s peanut crop had been harvested and just 28% of Alabama’s. In Georgia, just 15% of cotton and 33% of fall vegetables had been harvested when the storm hit.

Michael was also endangering dairy and poultry operations in its path. Power outages from storms can be life-threatening to animals in confined farm operations.

Both Florence and Michael hit at a time when low commodity prices and retaliatory tariffs from President Trump’s trade war threaten the livelihoods of even the most prosperous farmers.

“We started off the year with very good prices and a pretty good crop,” Wayne Boseman, president of the Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative, told Politico. “Now the hurricane is taking away the crop, and the trade war is taking away the price. That combination is putting a lot of farmers in severe financial constraints.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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