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Katrina visit could benefit some Georgia farmers

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Tropical storms during the growing season aren't always a welcome sight for farmers. But for some parts of parched south Georgia, the welcome mat is out to Katrina to bring in some rain.

"Depending on conditions, it may spur some disease problems," said Chuck Ellis, the University of Georgia Extension coordinator in Dooly County.

"But as dry as we are in places, it will be a bigger benefit than a detriment right now," Ellis said. "I had a farmer tell me this morning that if he could get 4 inches of rain out of a storm he'd welcome it, they're so dry."

The costs and benefits of a tropical storm will depend on where the storm makes landfall and how high the winds are, he said. In Ellis' area, one of the largest cotton-producing parts of the state, wind is the biggest threat.

"The biggest problem for us would be if we had tremendous wind that blew the cotton down in the field," he said.

"We had wind damage last year in some fields," he said, "and it depends on a lot of factors like which direction the row runs, the wind direction, if there is any protection from trees on the side that the wind's coming in from. ... One field can be devastated by wind and others just down the road can be fine."

The only open bolls he's seeing right now are on stressed cotton plants, so rain isn't much of a threat yet.

Farther south, where most Georgia peanuts are grown, farmers are in pretty good shape, too.

"Peanuts will be the least susceptible crop to storm damage," said UGA Extension peanut agronomist John Beasley, "unless the storm stalled out over us and we got 10 inches of rain throughout the peanut belt. Then we could see a lot of damage. But if we get the usual rain and it moves out, peanuts will be fine."

It's all about timing, Beasley said. "If we have this kind of storm come through three or four weeks from now, when we're closer to harvest, we'll be real worried," he said. "But right now, we're OK unless we get an unusual amount of heavy, heavy rain."

Other crops that face some threat are corn and tobacco.

"Farmers with harvest-ready corn are trying to hurry and get it in before the storm hits," Beasley said. "There's still some tobacco left out there, too, that could see some damage from wind and rain."

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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