ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
72°
Mostly Clear
H 90° L 68°
  • cloudy-day
    72°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Clear. H 90° L 68°
  • clear-day
    90°
    Today
    Mostly Clear. H 90° L 68°
  • clear-day
    91°
    Tomorrow
    Mostly Clear. H 91° L 69°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

State & Regional
The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’
Close

The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’

The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’
A tattered field of cotton in Newton, Ga. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’

Many of the people in Georgia who grow your food and other essentials had a brutal run of it in 2018.

Clay Pirkle, a cotton farmer from Ashburn, Ga., said it was the worst he’d ever seen. One of the state’s biggest vegetable farmers, Bill Brim of Tifton, said the same.

Gary Black, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, described what befell the state’s biggest economic sector as ranging “from utter devastation to minimal success.”

Black said he continues to hear from farmers who tell him they won’t be able to make their financial obligations this year.

Their woes sprout from a litany of sources: Hurricane Michael’s devastating winds, persistent rain that delayed and spoiled harvests, troubling freezes that tricked fruits, and plummeting prices for farmers, sparked by Chinese tariffs and a deluge of cheaper competition from Mexico.

From a busted blueberry crop in March to timber turned into kindling this fall and cotton — the state’s biggest row crop — twisted by the hurricane, the year was tougher than usual. Black said he expects the combined annual value of Georgia harvests will be below recent averages of nearly $14 billion. 

Consumers, though, will see little or no affect at stores, he said, because the global food market has covered the gaps.

In Georgia, the hurricane alone caused more than $2.5 billion in losses, according to the University of Georgia’s revised estimates, which account for ruined harvests this year as well as longer term losses and equipment and property damage throughout the agriculture sector.

The ripple effects will hit the livelihoods of people in much of the state, where agriculture helps pay the bills for everyone from car dealers to lenders, restaurant workers, cotton gin operators and fertilizer salespeople.

“This is a nervous year,” Black, the agriculture chief, said of 2018. “Rural Georgia is nervous.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia farmers were expected to have a big year for peaches and blueberries this year, a big rebound from 2017. Instead, weather took another big bite out of harvests on many farms in the state. MATT KEMPNER / AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Close

The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia farmers were expected to have a big year for peaches and blueberries this year, a big rebound from 2017. Instead, weather took another big bite out of harvests on many farms in the state. MATT KEMPNER / AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

For some farmers, such as peach growers, the challenges fell on top of a crumbling base from 2017.

“Last year, we got punched in the stomach. And when we were bent over, we got punched in the face,” state peach agent Jeff Cook said over the summer. “This year we just got punched in the stomach.”

The volume of the 2018 peach harvest for the Peach State was 50 percent below usual, Cook estimated more recently. Quality and prices were up, though the crop’s overall value was still off by 30 or 40 percent, he said.

In some agriculture sectors, though, this year was much worse and followed three years of troubles that have compounded financial risks.

Farmers typically take out loans each year to cover seed, fertilizer, equipment and other expenses for the coming season. Then they wait to see if the harvest will cover their bets.

In a cruel twist, it looked like some were on the verge of an extraordinarily good year. Then Michael hit.

“In about six hours it went from the best crop I had ever seen to a complete disaster,” said Pirkle, who had just begun harvesting his cotton fields in Ashburn, Ga.

“Man, it was gut wrenching.” 

His production sank by nearly two thirds. Instead of the extra profit he had expected, he will lose money and his lender will have a bigger lien on the farm, Pirkle said.

“The first call I made was to my banker. I said, ‘There is no way I’m going be able to pay you what I owe you.’”

Pirkle, who is 50 and a state legislator, said he thinks his farm will survive, but for some growers “it will be impossible.”

Crop insurance and newly approved state aid won’t cover all the costs, farmers said. They continued to wait to see if Congress will provide an extra layer of hurricane aid for farmers.

The hurricane particularly pounded south Georgia, decimating vegetable, cotton, income-producing timber and pecan farms, where its toll included eliminating trees that can take 15 years to reach full profit. Irrigation systems were destroyed, threatening the size of next year’s crop output if the equipment isn’t fixed soon enough.

RELATED: Georgia pecan farmers face more than one hurricane’s worth of pain

Winds felled or damaged 70 percent of the trees on a 125-acre southwest Georgia property owned by Gene Cook and his son-in-law Mark Spooner.

When they tried selling the wood, prices were one-tenth what they had been three years ago for upright trees, and it doesn’t look like crews are willing to complete the job. Cook said he’ll wait until the rains stop, then pile up the timber and burn it. Their loss on that damage alone: $200,000. Spooner predicts damage like that will hurt tax revenue for Seminole County, where he is a county commissioner.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bill Brim holds zucchini in his fields near Tifton. Brim and other Georgia farmers are facing the loss of millions of dollars as migrant workers’ visas are delayed by the federal government. Photo by Andy Harrison/ Georgia Depatment of Agriculture (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Close

The year for Georgia farmers: ‘Man, it was gut wrenching’

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bill Brim holds zucchini in his fields near Tifton. Brim and other Georgia farmers are facing the loss of millions of dollars as migrant workers’ visas are delayed by the federal government. Photo by Andy Harrison/ Georgia Depatment of Agriculture (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Losses spread across much of south Georgia. Brim, the vegetable farmer, said he lost squash, cucumbers and peppers. His tomatoes were knocked down. His broccoli and collard greens, harassed not only by hurricane winds but also by subsequent weeks of rain, were stunted. Leaves have yellowed.

Collards, a good luck tradition for New Year’s Day meals in the South, are in short supply for shoppers, Brim said. “You can’t hardly find collards anywhere.”

The storm eliminated harvests worth $30 million for him, he said. It also knocked out 15 of his greenhouses. With fewer good crops and less business, he sent 150 immigrant workers on visas back to Mexico.

Just as worrying to him, Brim said, have been lower prices this year — and perhaps in the future — for what many farmers do produce. Vegetables imports from Mexico have flooded the market this year, he said, dampening prices. He blamed U.S. trade negotiators whom he said this year agreed to eliminate anti-dumping tools for U.S. farmers.

RELATED: Collard greens shortage impacts Southern dinner tables

Pecan farmers have voiced similar complaints about Mexican trade. They also took a hit from tariffs China enacted in retaliation for tariffs President Trump set on certain Chinese goods.

Global competition also smacked Georgia blueberry farmers, who lost 80 percent of their crop due to poor weather conditions early in the year, according to the state’s agriculture commissioner.

Normally, diminished harvests would lead to higher prices, Black said, but those for blueberries tanked. He blamed inexpensive Mexican imports when Georgia blueberries were in season.

They and other growers have wrestled with other issues in recent years, including tiny white flies that harassed cotton and vegetable plants last year, uncertainty about visas for foreign migrant farm workers, and damage from the leftovers of Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Not all growers suffered this year, though.

Poultry, the biggest single chunk of agriculture in the state, had a fairly typical year.Meat producers in general did well, according to Kent Wolfe, who directs UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. 

And north Georgia farmers generally had an average to better than average year, at least as far as the size of their harvests, according to Bernard Sims, a Ringgold, Ga., sod farmer and a vice president of the Georgia Farm Bureau. Sims also grows some corn, soybeans and strawberries. 

Average might sound like nirvana for some. Said south Georgia pecan farmer Richard Grebel, who lost millions of dollars worth of crops, “I’m ready to put 2018 to bed and start 2019.”

Read More

News

  • New cellphone video appears to show a Florida substitute teacher body slam a student while breaking up a fight between at least two students. >> Watch the news report here Witnesses told ActionNewsJax that this happened Monday at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville. ActionNewsJax spoke exclusively with Towyhia McAffee, who says her 15-year-old son was the one tackled. “You slammed my son,” she said. “You picked him up and slammed him.” She said her son is the teen shown wearing a cast in the video. “Do you intend to make any kind of complaint?” ActionNewsJax reporter Russell Colburn asked. “Absolutely,” she said. >> Read more trending news  Last week, after at least five recent allegations of teachers hitting students came into the ActionNewsJax newsroom, Colburn sat down with superintendent Dr. Diana Greene to discuss training. “Is there ever a situation where a teacher would want to put their hands on a student?” Colburn asked. “There should never be a situation where a teacher wants to put their hands on a student, unless they are preventing they are preventing that student from hurting themselves or hurting someone else,” Greene said. Duval County Public Schools policy does state the teacher 'must act reasonably given the circumstances when they intervene.' McAffee said that didn’t happen here. “Something needs to be done about that,” she said. “That’s not right.” ActionNewsJax followed up with DCPS on this specific case for more information on the teacher and what may have led up to the fight, but officials said that because fighting is a student disciplinary situation, they won’t provide details or comment further.
  • A father in Tuscumbia, Alabama, surprised his daughter’s entire second-grade class with a field trip to her favorite place. But Jeremy Smith’s little girl wasn’t among the kids jumping and laughing at the town’s local trampoline business, Sky Zone. Jaleia Smith died in September after the family was involved in a car crash, WHNT reported. Weeks before the crash, Jaleia and her friends celebrated her 8th birthday at the same Sky Zone. >> Read more trending news  So, to remember his daughter, and to thank the school and students for everything they have done for him this year since Jaleia’s death, Jeremy Smith treated all 111-second grade students at G.W. Trenholm Primary School to a surprise field trip to the trampoline business, WHNT reported. Her friends still miss the little girl. “[We] try to have as much fun as we can, but sometimes we can’t have as much fun as we would have if she was here,” Mia Awwad told WHNT.  Jaleia’s friends have tried to keep her memory alive too over the past school year. They retired her student number and planted a tree in her memory. They also left messages to Jaleia on the chalkboard in her classroom, according to WHNT.
  • Sisters Hailey and Hannah Hagor of North Carolina spent the weekend selling lemonade to pay off their classmates’ lunch debt. >> Watch the news report here >> Fired lunch lady was 'dishonest,' didn't follow rules, food vendor says Student lunch debt at Southwood Elementary in Davidson County is up to $3,100. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  “There's one family that owes $800,” the girls’ mother, Erin Hager, said. “I don't know how many years worth that is, but it's a big deal.' >> Read more trending news  The girls also sold chili, hot dogs and chips. >> See the girls' Facebook page here More than $40,000 is owed to schools across Davidson County.
  • Maybe they just wanted to go for a joyride? Three bear cubs recently crawled into a man's car in Gatlinburg, Tennessee – and the shocking moment was caught on camera. >> Gatlinburg SkyBridge: Nation's longest pedestrian suspension bridge opens in Tennessee According to WFIE, Chad Morris of Owensboro, Kentucky, was visiting the popular tourist destination last week when he spotted the undesignated drivers taking over his vehicle. Photos show the bears peeking out the windows, which Morris had left open, and getting cozy behind the steering wheel as their mother watches from the street. >> Read more trending news  'Is this real life?' Morris captioned the pictures in a Facebook book Thursday. 'Tell me we are being punked.'  >> See the Facebook post here >> Watch a video of the moment here In a Facebook comment, Morris said the bears eventually 'climbed out and took off back down the mountain.' 'I knew as soon as they got out and went down the hill, I put my windows up and they stayed up every time I parked,' Morris told WFIE. Thankfully, Morris’ new furry friends didn’t cause too much damage, though a bear did take “a chunk out of the seat,” he said. Read more here.
  • Police in Phoenix are trying to find the woman they said left a toddler in a stroller in the middle of a shopping center parking lot Saturday. The child, who is between 1 and 2 years old and was asleep in the stroller, is in the custody of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, KTVK reported. >> Read more trending news  The little boy was discovered by a bystander. The stroller was in a parking space near a fast-food restaurant, and was partially hidden under food wrappers and what police described as “other junk,” according to KTVK. “Someone who was on their way to work was walking by a pile of really just debris and among that debris was a stroller and inside the stroller was a little moving leg,” Phoenix Police Sgt. Vince Lewis told KTVK. The boy was taken to an area hospital to be checked out. He wasn’t hurt, KTVK reported.
  • A child was injured after being struck by a Boston Police cruiser Monday night. Boston Police say just after 7 p.m., they received a call of a pedestrian struck on Shawmut Avenue in Roxbury.  The pedestrian, who police said is a 1-year-old child, was taken to the hospital with minor injuries after being hit. The child's mother tells us her daughter suffered a broken collarbone in the crash.  >> Read more trending news  No additional information was released.