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USA - Alabama farmers lost $100 million in cotton crops due to Hurricane Michael

Three days ago, third generation owner of Mule Shoe Plantation, Jeff McCallister could look out over his fields and see a wave of bright white cotton, ready to be harvested. Now, when he surveys his 1,000 plus acres of cotton, some spots are bare, because of Hurricane Michael. McCallister said he is looking at a $1 million loss because of the storm.

“It makes me sick to even be out here standing in it to see the devastation of it,” McCallister said. “The dollar figure for us is just gone. What started out as being a crop that was going to be one of the best crops we have ever had, has been torn down to just nothing.”

About 20 miles away, owner of KW Farms, Keith Watford, says his cotton is a total loss. He is looking at an $80,000 loss, not including the cost to fix his barn, which is being held up by a combine and peanut picker.

“I am glad I am here,” Watford said. “I am glad nobody got hurt. All my family is OK. The damage can be fixed, slowly but surely.”

William Birdsong is an extension agronomist for the Wiregrass area. He said 30 percent to 50 percent of the cotton in the state comes from the 10 southeast counties in the state. This year in Alabama, 500,000 acres of cotton was set to be grown in the state, with the southeast consistently contributing 160,000 to 190,000 acres a year. He said Houston County cotton was hit hardest from the storm, with some farmers in the region suffering 10 percent to 100 percent losses.

“It is a huge economic gut punch to the cotton,” Birdsong said. “We were looking at one of the very best overall crops of cotton we have grown in my career, and that is 25 plus years. We were looking at yields of 1,200 to 1,800 pounds of lint per acre, compared to 600 to 800 pounds per acre in a lot of other years, which would be less than desirable yields during those years, but this was an exceptional crop. We were poised to gain very well, economically, simply because the price of cotton had gone up. A lot of farmers had already booked their cotton at around $.80 to $.90 a pound, which is a lot higher price for that lint than it has been in the last five or six years. Therefore, we looked at an opportunity to get yield and price together. When you couple those with even a 1,200 pound yield at around a nearly $.90 per pound average for the cotton, then you are looking at about $1,000 per acre revenue. Southeast Alabama has around 200,000 acres of cotton, so you are looking at a $200 million crop. I would say that has been cut in half, at least. We are probably looking at a $100 million loss because of this storm.”

Representative Martha Roby paid a visit to agriculture areas hit hard by Michael on Friday. She said while the full scale of the damages is unknown, the cotton farmers in the area face a ‘significant economic setback.’ She added the AL-02 economy depends on farmers and their work. She says her office is ready to help however they can.

“It could take us a year, if not two years just to kind of get everything back in kind of a normal status to be able to make a go at it of it again,” McCallister said. “I do not know if there will be such a thing as normalcy here. We are hoping for the best. We are praying that the good Lord looks out for us.”

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