Alabama farms take beating from Hurricane Sally, farmers predict major crop losses

Alabama farms take beating from Hurricane Sally, farmers predict major crop losses
Baldwin County’s Mark Kaiser had damage to infrastructure — and his soybean crop, which suffered extreme wind damage. (Source: ALFA Farmers Federation)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Hurricane Sally stalled for hours along Alabama’s Gulf Coast Wednesday- flooding farmers' fields, tearing apart crops and destroying structures.

“What’s discouraging about this hit is that it’s already been a difficult year for the Ag economy,” said Brian Hardin, Director of Governmental and Agricultural Programs for the Alabama Farmers Federation. "Things relating to the COVID impact, affecting markets, affecting trade, affecting the supply chain, so this is really an impact that they did not need to have this fall.”

Hurricane Sally damaged crops and structures along Alabama’s Gulf Coast when it hit Sept. 16. Bitto Farms sustained damage from the hurricane in Baldwin County.
Hurricane Sally damaged crops and structures along Alabama’s Gulf Coast when it hit Sept. 16. Bitto Farms sustained damage from the hurricane in Baldwin County. (Source: ALFA Farmers Federation)

Strong winds and heavy rainfall devastated crops, leaving many farmers across the state without hopes for a successful harvest.

“We’re surviving,” said Baldwin County Farmer Greg Bartl.

Like many farmers in Alabama, Bartl was shocked by the impact Sally left behind.

“You can’t blame the meteorologist for the track it took, but no, no one was prepared in any way shape or form,” Bartl said. “We totally anticipated a rain event with heavy rains, but that’s all we anticipated. Instead, we got the brunt of the storm and 30 inches of rain.”

Bartl said his cotton fields are shredded, his corn is a complete loss and his peanut fields are flooded.

“How much damage and how much we will lose is too early to even begin to estimate,” Bartl said.

Hardin said when most people think about Baldwin County and the impact from the storm, they jump to the economic impact on the tourism industry, but he said farming will suffer too.

“To have that impact on Baldwin County really is an impact to all of Alabama agriculture,” Hardin said. “In addition to the farmers locally.”

Hardin said it’s too soon to put an exact number on what kind of financial impact the storm has caused.

“We’re fortunate in some ways that crop such as corn was harvested, but those that are depending on their cotton crop or soybeans or pecans, might turn out to have better crop than we thought, but it is going to be an economic impact and hit to those families. We just cannot say exactly how badly today,” Hardin said.

Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate said he, along with Gov. Kay Ivey, wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to get impacted counties designated as natural disaster locations.

“Hopefully we’ll get them some help as soon as we can,” Pate said.

Friday, the federal government rolled out the second phase of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to help the agriculture industry. Also, on Aug. 12, the Department of Agriculture received $26 million from Ivey for COVID-19 relief.

“We have these programs that have just rolled out the last two weeks that are not necessarily hHurricane Sally programs, but they’re out there, and so hopefully with the additional relief we get from hurricane Sally we can help people a little bit,” Pate said.

Farmers who suffered damages from hurricane Sally are encouraged to fill out a survey at AlfaFarmers.org/survey to help the Alabama Farmers Federation track damage and report findings to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farmers should also report damage to their local Farm Service Agency office.

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