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Michael costs Alabama ag more than $200 million

Michael costs Alabama ag more than $200 million

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Hurricane Michael caused more than $200 million in agriculture damage across southeastern Alabama, dealing a severe blow to farmers still uncertain about what disaster assistance may come their way.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System estimates about $100 million in damage occurred in Houston County alone, primarily to cotton crops, but also to peanuts, poultry, livestock, fruit, vegetables, and timber.

“The storm affected every portion of Wiregrass agriculture,” said Gary Lemme, director of the agency.

The estimates derived from Alabama Extension professionals who spent days after the storm evaluating losses in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Russell counties.

Overall, Lemme estimates damage to cotton totaled $108 million, while peanuts suffered $11 million in damages.

The system further estimates damage to fencing and associated debris removal costs totaled $23.6 million for livestock farmers.

Pine forest stands were ravaged by the storm’s high winds that snapped some trees at midtrunk while toppling others. Destroyed timber is valued at almost $20.9 million.

“The forest impact goes beyond downed trees to pine straw production,” Lemme said. “We estimate pine straw losses at about $11.8 million.”

Smaller producers face potentially catastrophic situations, Lemme said.

“One grower lost his entire cucumber crop. Tomato growers are looking at losses in the 60 to 75 percent range,” he said. “Combined with greenhouse losses and pecan losses, the storm destroyed another almost $3.5 million.”

The estimates represent the first part of a report the state will submit to the state’s congressional delegation and the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Farmers with crop insurance can recover much of the losses, but crop insurance does not cover all associated expenses. Counties with a disaster declaration allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans, but many farmers are already carrying debt.

Farmers hope the federal government will provide grants to cover losses, but it is not known if that will happen or if the money will come quickly enough to pay debt due by the end of the year.

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