Notes from the Senate
by Whitley Clifton | October 31, 2018 3:27 pm
by SEN. JACK HILL, 4th District
SPECIAL SESSION TO ADDRESS SW GEORGIA HURRICANE DAMAGE
This week Governor Deal called for a Special Session for November 13th to address the impacts from Hurricane Michael and make adjustments in the budget to account for incurred costs. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Michael is the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States and hit the panhandle of Florida Wednesday October 10th as a Category 4, and hit southwest Georgia as an intense Category 2 or 3 hurricane. Georgia experienced extreme winds between 125-150 miles per hour from Lake Seminole through Bainbridge, to north of Albany. Intense rain and hurricane force winds were detected from Albany to near Dublin in middle Georgia. Governor Deal declared an emergency in an initial 92 counties and an additional 17 more for a total of 109 counties, or 68.5% of the total counties in the state. This extensive storm brought extreme flooding and rainfall accumulation and tropical storm winds as it rapidly moved through the state.
HUGE AGRICULTURE LOSSES
Agriculture is the state’s number one industry and a vital part of our diverse economy. In southwest Georgia, the state grows a varied array of crops including cotton, sweet corn, timber, pecans, poultry and peanuts. Loss estimates from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and Georgia Forestry Commission show figures approaching $2.5 billion of damages to new crops and trees including from agritourism of the fall season in corn mazes and pumpkin patches. A breakdown of estimated losses are included below.
TIMBER TAKES A TUMBLE
The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) in their Timber Impact Assessment estimated $374 million in loss in timber with more than two million acres destroyed. A combination of geospatial analysis and aerial and field examinations were conducted and widespread damage was observed in the extreme southwest point of the state and catastrophic to severe damage was seen in timber in Seminole, Decatur and Miller counties. Even outside of the severe and catastrophically damaged parts of the state, wind-bent trees leaning at less than 45 degrees was common.
According to the Damage Assessment survey 2,368,226 of acres of forestland were impacted by Hurricane Michael with 10,647,865 tons of pine and 7,661,721 tons of hardwood being damaged with an estimated value of $374,237,415.
For the full Timber Impact Assessment, go to http://gatrees.org/forest-management/storm-damage/Hurricane%20MichaelTimber%20Impact%20Assessment%20Georgia%20October%2010-11%202018%20(2).pdf .
SIMILAR SIGHTS FOR PECAN CROPS
An unfortunate common sight is pecan trees that were blown over or broken which contributes to generational losses for many growers. It takes around six to seven years for a tree to begin producing viable nuts. There is an estimated 100% crop loss in Seminole county, 85% in Decatur county, and 30% in Grady county. The Department of Agriculture estimated the value of pecan losses around $560 million. A Wall Street Journal October 17th article, reported that Hurricane Michael reduced the projected yield to half of the 110 million pounds they were expecting – a severe blow to growers that were still recovering losses from Hurricane Irma.
LOSSES OFF AN EXPECTED HIGH YIELD COTTON CROP
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office reported an updated cotton damage assessment of $550 to $600 million due to Hurricane Michael. It is estimated the prospects of 1,500 to 1,800 pounds of dryland cotton for some producers were reduced, resulting in 80 to 90 percent losses in some fields. Since cotton harvest occurs in October, the timing of this storm made the impact even more severe and damaging. Estimates that over 60% of this year’s crop was extremely susceptible to storm damage and producers have to decide how to move forward with cotton left in the field.
PEANUT HARVEST IMPACTED
In addition, Hurricane Michael has impacted local buying points and peanut shellers, with devastating impacts. The loss of the peanut crop is estimated between $10 – $20 million impact. Also compounding the issue is significant damage to drying shelters and elevators. It is also estimated that between 40 – 45% of the crop is still in the field, which makes the necessitated repairs to equipment to continue the harvesting more urgent.
POULTRY ALSO EXPERIENCED LOSSES
In poultry, which is the state’s leading agricultural industry, the Georgia Department of Agriculture reported a loss of 97 houses and well over 2 million chickens impacted in counties such as Appling, Colquitt, Coffee, Decatur, Evans, Houston, Mitchell, Randolph, Lee and Wilcox. Poultry damage was estimated at $25 million.
ADDITIONAL DAMAGE IN VEGETABLES
Vegetable crops were also hit by strong winds, accumulated rainfall and flooding. Strong winds facilitated leaf removal from plants and the flooding led to severe runoff and soil erosion. These impacts may make the plant and vegetables susceptible to sunburn damage and disease resulting from injury. These crops are also likely to experience eventual losses due to secondary rot and sunburn. Additional storm wind speeds created equipment damage of packing sheds, greenhouses, and other farm facilities. Widespread power losses also prevented growers from using coolers, grading lines, and electric irrigation pumps which added to additional impacts. The most effected vegetable crops were sweet corn, peppers, eggplants, cucumber, squash, tomatoes, and snap peas. Preliminary crop loss estimates are $480,314,376 for vegetables.
HOW CAN THE STATE HELP?
Along with FEMA’s efforts, there are a number of ways that the state can be of assistance to communities, citizens and farmers in the storm-damaged areas of south and southwest Georgia. Debris removal has been estimated to be a $70 million dollar item that the state can assist with. The state will pay local costs including overtime for local employees and other expenses including contractors. While reimbursable by FEMA, many times this reimbursement can take one to two years.
There will be appropriations for DOT expenditures tied to the storm and to damaged roads and bridges and sign replacement.
There will be some cost to the state for disposing of the debris. EPD (Environmental Protection Division) has set up 50 debris disposal sites that will be monitored. It is likely the OneGeorgia program will be used for direct aid to communities for infrastructure and other reimbursements. There may already be a structure that can be used to assist farmers.
I may be reached at 234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; 404-656-5038 (phone); 404-657-7094 (fax); e-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov; toll-free at 1-800-367-3334, day or night; or by phone at my Reidsville office, 912-557-3811.