Its been a long day for Georgia pecan growers. Hurricane Michael slammed into Georgia as a Category 3 Hurricane last night after devastating parts of the Florida Gulf Coast and slowed very little until it got well into our state. Winds near Bainbridge, GA in the Southwest corner, at the time , were 115 mph sustained. As it reached Albany winds were still 100 mph. Michael was not downgraded to a Tropical Storm until it reached the eastern side of middle Georgia. Along this path, the storm devastated much of the Georgia pecan crop. Mitchell, Lee, and Dougherty Counties alone account for 30% of Georgia’s pecan production. I spoke with a number of growers in these counties and each one told me the area has lost from 30-50% of its pecan trees. By far the worst of the damage is from Albany to the south and West. I have had reports from growers in the Bainbridge area who told me they are essentially out of the pecan business because their orchards have been absolutely destroyed, with some orchards losing every tree. While still severe, the damage seemed to lessen a little as it reached Sumter and Crisp Counties and on into the Fort Valley areas as most growers in those areas suffered multiple downed trees, many limbs, and nuts lost but not to the degree that we see from Albany and the counties moving to the south and west from there. Northeast of Albany it appeared that with this storm, the worst damage occurred in older (50-100 year old) orchards as opposed to the 10-25 year old orchards that were damaged so badly with Irma. As with Irma, virtually every orchard in the state has had damage to some extent, even into southeastern and middle eastern Georgia.
Much of the pecan crop was a few days to a few weeks from being harvested. Shucks were split on almost all cultivars to some extent, including Stuart and Sumner, which are typically a little later. Gift pack nuts like Elliott and Schley were very near harvest as were Creek, Caddo, and Oconee. As a result many nuts blew out of the shucks and the nuts covering the ground give the impression the trees have been shook. As a result, the biggest issue growers who still have most of their trees standing face, at this time, is trying to determine the best way to clean up the debris without running over the nuts. In many orchards this will be virtually impossible and growers will have no choice but to run over nuts to clean up the debris. Growers may be able to carefully sweep and move limbs back and forth into swept alleys to get through in some orchards so that they can harvest.
Based on the extreme damage in the Dougherty, Lee, and Mitchell county area where so much of Georgia’s crop is grown, the expected near total loss in the furthest Southwestern corner of the state, and significant damage in virtually every orchard within the state, my early estimate is that Georgia has lost at least 40-50% of its pecan crop.
The photos above do not really do justice to the destruction in these orchards and there are many orchards damaged far worse than what you see here. We will continue to monitor losses and will update this preliminary estimate if and when it needs to be changed.