Crop loss in one Georgia county speaks to import of special legislative session

By David Pendered

A heartbreaking report about the crop devastation Hurricane Michael inflicted on one Georgia county came out a few days after Gov. Nathan Deal announced his plans to call a special legislative session for the state to respond to catastrophic crop loss.

Terrell County

A timber farm with hunting and small-tract opportunities is for sale and priced at $2,500 an acre, or $107,500 for all 43 acres including the frontage along Chenube Creek. Credit: landandfarm.com

This is the account from Terrell County’s extension agent, Seth McAllister:

  • “Our best cotton crop ever was reduced to about a bale per acre on irrigated and dryland fields alike. Fields were covered with lint, and cotton began sprouting in the middle of the rows. Peanut yield losses during digging were estimated at upwards of a thousand pounds per acre either from delayed digging or from defoliation that was caused by a combination of disease and high winds during the storm. Our pecan orchards are only a remnant of what they were.”

McAllister’s report appeared in the Oct. 29 edition of the Georgia Crop Progress and Condition Report, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. McAllister wasn’t alone in reporting hard times facing Georgia farmers, but his report was among the more stark in that edition.

Terrell County is one of those places that appear in stories about the “Other Georgia.” Terrell County is southwest of Macon and southeast of Columbus and north of Tallahassee, Fl.

It almost hit pay dirt when President Jimmy Carter persuaded then Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly to run an excursion train between Cordele and his childhood places in Plains and Archery. But the SAM Shortline runs north of Terrell County and any economic spillover hasn’t spilled over into Terrell County.

Census reports paint a fairly grim picture of the county’s future:

Terrell County, SAM Shortline

Terrell County barely missed out on the economic engine created by the excursion train that runs on track between Cordele and President Carter’s childhood areas in Plains and Archery. Credit: Google Earth, David Pendered

  • Terrell County’s population has declined by 8.2 percent this decade, to an estimated 8,729;
  • The median household income in 2016 dollars was $30,438;
  • Retail sales per person were estimated at $7,523;
  • The population per square mile was nearly 28.
  • The closest hospital is in Albany, 20 miles away, according to a report by countyoffice.org.

The special legislation session isn’t likely to fix this situation. A bumper crop couldn’t have fixed the situation.

But Terrell County’s situation is what Georgia lawmakers are supposed to have in mind when they convene in Atlanta on the Tuesday after election day, which is Nov. 6. And not just Terrell County, but those “Other Georgias” across the state that grow the crops and animals that make agriculture one of the state’s leading economic drivers.

Consider Baker County and its report about the loss of chickens and other crops. Baker is located south of Albany, about as far south of town as Terrell County is north of Albany.

The county’s agriculture products were clobbered, according E. Lanier Jordan, Baker County’s extension agent. He reported:

  • “Hurricane Michael was a terrible weather event. Over half of the county’s poultry houses were destroyed. Most of the cotton and pecan crops were destroyed.”
flooded farmland

Even before Hurricane Michael arrived, soybeans were underwater near Plains because of heavy and persistent spring rains. File/Credit: Sidney Cromer/UGA

To put that in perspective, Baker County’s poultry output contributes to a segment that accounts for nearly half of Georgia’s farm commodities, the poultry and egg industry, according to a report in georgiaencyclopedia.org.

The governor has yet to issue his formal call for the special session. He issued a statement Oct. 23 announcing his intention to call a special session. The call will specify the topics that can be deliberated during the session. Only those topics can be considered in a session that can last up to 40 days, according to the state Constitution.

The Constitution allows for the call to be amended in certain circumstances, according to this section on Page 30:

  • “The Governor may convene the General Assembly in special session by proclamation which may be amended by the Governor prior to the convening of the special session or amended by the Governor with the approval of three-fifths of the members of each house after the special session has convened; but no laws shall be enacted at any such special session except those which relate to the purposes stated in the proclamation or in any amendment thereto.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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