South Georgia farmers continue waiting on federal relief

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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
May 8, 2019

TIFT COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) -- Seeds are in the ground in South Georgia, but farmers are still fighting for federal funding to help them recover from Hurricane Michael.

Seven months after the hurricane left the region devastated, planting season can't wait for peanut and cotton farmers.

The Geogia Cotton Commission said the hurricane caused unprecedented losses to the state's agriculture industry, and to the state's economy. Officials said for the Georgia cotton industry alone, total losses are estimated at $600 million, with an additional $75 million in business interruption.

The commission said almost every cotton farmer in the state was impacted, with some farmers losing everything. While some have been able to plant this spring, others are still rebuilding, and some farmers are still weighing if they even can rebuild.

Agriculture leaders said cotton farmers are now relying on bridge loans to get seeds in the ground, but the banks are counting on disaster funding to come through. Many peanut farmers are also relying on disaster funding to get by.

"We're trying our best to survive, we got a lot of internal damage," said Tyron Spearman, Executive Director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association. "We lost a lot of our cotton, we're finding now that our peanuts were hurt more than we thought. We got a lot of warehouses that were damaged, and it's a problem for us in production of our seed."

Spearman said because of the damage, seeds are not germinating as highly, and farmers are having to plant more seeds to yield the same production. It's a loss they weren't expecting.

Industry leaders said a lot of smaller, rural communities rely on farmers as an economic driver for their communities. But even in a state where agriculture is a leading industry, many farmers still have hope.

"As farmers, we're always optimistic that things are going to get better," Spearman said. "We've been that way for our entire centuries. We think the peanut demand out there is good, we're showing about a one to two percent increase."

Both cotton and peanuts are about 25 percent planted. Experts said peanuts should be planted by the end of the month.

The Georgia Cotton Commission said conditions in South Georgia are fair, and as long as the region has consistent, but not steady rain, the upcoming yield could be strong.

Agriculture leaders said state relief funding has already passed, and is now just on standby, waiting to see how federal funding will match before farmers can receive anything.



 
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