AL cotton farmers deal with loss of crops, profits after Michael

AL cotton farmers deal with loss of crops, profits after Michael

HEADLAND, AL (WSFA) - It’s hard to make predictions about ‘Mother Nature’ and often, that’s the consequence for farmers.

During planting season, right up until harvest season, Thomas Kirkland had high hopes for this year’s cotton crop. He’s been a cotton farmer for almost 35 years. but 2018 was set to be special.

“It was going to be the best crop we’ve ever made since we’ve been growing," Kirkland envisioned, "especially since peanuts are as cheap as they are. We were kinda betting on cotton to pick up the slack we had on cheap peanuts. Mother nature had different plans.”

Kirkland was only halfway through harvesting his 800 acres of cotton when Hurricane Michael hit the coast. With his farm about five miles north of the Dothan Airport, it was the worst kind of conditions for the crop. Sustained winds of 60 miles per hour decimated Kirkland’s crop.

“Just imagine that being done for five, six hours,” the south Alabama farmer asked.

As the wind whipped the crop, rain soaked the plant. That caused the highest quality cotton to fall to the ground. What wasn’t ripped from stalks isn’t the best quality crop.

Before and after images show the destructive power of the storm. Cotton, piled like snow on the ground, might as well be stacks of shredded money.

Wiregrass Extension Specialist William Birdsong estimated the total loss.

“The Wiregrass Agronomy Team completed an assessment report of the damage to the cotton crop and surveying the southeastern corner of the state and looking at 175,000 acres of cotton, we’re looking at a little over $100 million loss,” said Birdsong.

Kirkland estimates a $400 loss per acre and he had about 400 acres left to harvest. That’s roughly $160,000 gone. But while that sounds like a lot, he didn’t lose enough to file for crop insurance.

“This is our profit. What we make a living off of what we pay our bills with. That can’t be recovered,” said Kirkland.

Crop insurance is based on a 10-year rolling average and then farmers get between 50 to 60 percent of that average. While some farmers experienced 100 percent loss on their cotton crop, many farmers who were expecting large quality yields didn’t meet the minimum requirement for loss.

“With the amount of potential revenue coming in, even if we lost half then we’re just back down to an average crop and then you’re looking at a percentage of that because crop insurance is not 100 percent,” Birdsong explained.

But the loss won’t just hit farmers. It trickles down to the cotton ginners who will have significantly less cotton to gin, as well as cities and towns that rely on ginners working.

“The more cotton is ginned, the more power we use for some of these gins that are located in small towns and communities," Birdsong went on. "This is how they get some of their revenue, by selling power.”

And the economic effect continues to trickle down.

“The prices of lint may go up, therefore it could affect clothing prices," Birdsong went on. "They may go up some.”

Birdsong is asking local farmers to send pictures of damaged crops to their local Extension Center or email him directly at birdwc@auburn.edu. Crop experts are compiling information for a comprehensive report to give to state and federal officials.

There will be a meeting at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in Headland, Tuesday at 1 p.m.

While the outlook on Kirkland’s farm looks bleak, he believes there may be hope in his peanut crop, not damaged by the storm, filling in the financial gaps created by his cotton loss.

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