The direct track Hurricane Irma will decide is not fully understood right now, but it appears the mega-storm will hit someplace hard enough to damage Southeast agriculture.
Reports say hotel rooms in southwest Georgia are already filling up with Florida and east Georgia residents leaving ahead of the storm, which is predicted to hit Florida this weekend.
Andy Robinson and his brother Scott were digging peanuts ahead of the storm. In a phone interview Wednesday, he said he and the other farmers who farm in Levy County about 20 miles southwest of Gainesville, Fla., were watching closely which way Irma was leaning. Almost all of the peanuts in the peanut-heavy area are ready to be harvested now, and Robinson said he’d like to get them all safely out of the field before Irma hits, but that isn’t going to happen. Robinson said he has dug about 40 percent of his peanuts, which leaves well over half his crop vulnerable to Irma’s potential damage, which will most likely come from flooding.
Once peanuts are dug, they can stand to stay underwater a few days before being harvested. A storm in 2004 (note correction from previous version of this story which had storm year as 2014) put a lot of Robinson’s dug peanuts under 14 inches of water for several days, and the peanuts fared OK. It’s the ones not yet dug that he worries about. Due to a hot, humid summer, leaf spot has cranked up big in fields. After Irma, that problem might explode.
Most of the latest models have Irma leaning toward Florida’s east coast. Robinson plans to stay put. But if the storm ends up tracking further west, eyeing Florida’s gulf coast, he might take the family and ride the storm out someplace else.
MDA Weather Services issued a special alert Sept. 6 pointing out the risk Hurricane Irma poses to Florida’s citrus and sugarcane crops.
“The exact track of the storm will be a major determining factor on the extent of the crop damage,” said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist for MDA Weather Services. “A storm track right over the center of the Florida peninsula would likely result in significant damage to citrus trees and sugarcane plants. “A track just to the east of Florida would lower damage potential for crops within Florida but would in turn increase threats to cotton, corn, and soybean crops in the Carolinas. “
Update 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7 – The World Soybean Research Conference-10, which was slated to begin Sept. 11 in Savannah, Ga., has been cancelled due to Irma’s projected impact on coastal Georgia. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for the coastal counties of Georgia, including Savannah in Chatham County.
If Irma comes straight up Florida or scrapes down the eastern seaboard, it would mark three years in a row a devastating tropical weather event has hit at or near harvest time for row crop farmers in the region. Hurricane Matthews hit hard South Carolina and North Carolina farmers along the coast and further inland last October as harvest entered the high gears, which made two years in a row for such a disaster in that region. Growers said then two years in a row was enough to alter farming in the area. Three years in a row would alter thing dramatically.
Farmers from Florida up through Georgia to the Carolinas need a good solid harvest this year. Up until now, the stage has been set to have it this year with record to excellent yields predicted in many locations for peanuts, cotton and soybeans.
State departments of ag respond
The Georgia Department of Agriculture released a statement Sept. 6 saying it is “working with all of our state, federal and industry partners to support the safety and comfort of Georgia citizens, their animals and our Florida neighbors fleeing the storm.”
GDA has temporarily suspended Animal Interstate Movement Health Requirements for entry into Georgia for the transportation of animals from areas expected to be impacted by Hurricane Irma in Florida. The suspension of entry requirements applies to animals entering Georgia from Florida only.
Effective Sept. 7 at 8 a.m. the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry, Ga., will serve as an equine evacuation site for those in the line of Hurricane Irma. For additional information contact Philip Gentry at email@example.com or 478-988-6522. Updated information regarding all animal sheltering locations will be available at www.agr.georgia.gov/gda-hurricane-response.aspx as it becomes available.
The Georgia department is also working with fuel and food retail license holders to ensure they are informed regarding storm response. More information on fuel quality control efforts and food safety tips are available at www.agr.georgia.gov/gda-hurricane-response.aspx.
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been in contact with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Horse Council and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services to confirm Sept. 6 temporary sheltering facilities for evacuated livestock including horses and cattle.
In preparation for this storm, Alabama’s State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier has been in contact with Florida’s State Veterinarian, Dr. Michael Short, in planning for the potential evacuation of certain livestock and animals. Animals moving in response to evacuation orders will be exempt from a certificate of veterinary inspection. To find out more, go to www.agi.alabama.gov.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said Sept. 6 that more than 100 Florida Forest Service personnel, as well as aircraft, off-road vehicles and mobile command posts, are preparing to respond to Hurricane Irma and assist in search and rescue missions, debris clearing, distributing supplies and more.
Putman also said the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has readied millions of servings of food that will be on-hand for Hurricane Irma response efforts.