Ivan Plows Through Alabama
The storm that ripped Alabama apart when it slammed into the Gulf Coast during the early morning hours of Sept. 16, also brought it together in ways some outsiders may find hard to understand. Residents whose homes were leveled and crops were lost pitched in to help strangers stranded by the storm. Others left their own troubles to help neighbors who were suffering.The sounds of chainsaws and generators rang through the peaceful landscape of communities hit hardest by the storm. Many areas went days without electricity and water. But the common vein that could be found from as far south as Gulf Shores to as far north as Fort Payne was one of thanks and people pulling together.”Our farmers are determined to keep on going even though they’ve been through this terrible storm,” said Alfa Farmers President Jerry Newby following a tour of damaged farms. “The positive thing I’ve seen from this is that people are pulling together. We knew they would–folks in Alabama are that way. This storm didn’t just happen in Baldwin county, but it came on up through Escambia and Monroe and Wilcox counties–all the way up through Jackson County in north Alabama. There is damage all over the state, not only in crops, but property damage, too. I think our people are working hard to make Alabama whole again.””I’m very thankful,” said Monroe County farmer Tim Tucker the day after the storm as he took stock of the damage. “We haven’t found a neighbor yet that was injured. Everything else here can be replaced eventually–it’s going to take a while–but I am thankful that my family and my neighbors were spared.”Tucker and his family rode out the Category 4 storm in their brick home in south Monroe County near the town of Uriah. While his house and family were spared, the rest of his farm was a disaster. Tucker farms with his father and brother who handle most of the farm’s 200 acres of pecan trees. The family also had 450 acres of cotton, 60 acres of peanuts and about 600 head of cattle.”I feel like our pecans are going to be our worse economic loss because of the time it will take to replace the orchards,” Tucker said. “These trees are probably 35 years old, so we don’t even know if we’re going to replace them.”Dollar wise for this year, our cotton crop will be our biggest loss because we had most of our row crop acreage in cotton. We had some cotton that was just about ready to be defoliated, and I feel like it’s a 100-percent loss. The rest of it was younger cotton, and it’s full bolled. It was beat around bad, and I’m afraid it’s a total loss, too.”Tucker said peanuts may be the only crop they get to harvest. Things didn’t go as well for their livestock.”We have one farm we haven’t been able to get to yet,” he said. “There’s still too many trees down. A barn on some rented property collapsed sometime during the storm. We know we lost 12 cows, including a Charolais bull. We were able to rescue about 30 cows by cutting them out with chainsaws. Until we can get the barn up, we won’t know if there were any others that died. We’re just thankful we were cutting cows out instead of our neighbors, who could have been trapped in their homes.”Further south, Tucker’s neighbor, Chuck Griffin, estimates his farm received at least 10 inches of rain from the storm, not to mention steady hurricane-force winds for more than 12 hours. He found strange objects in his peanut field following the storm: a life jacket, large pieces of tin ripped from his barn and two-by-fours scattered like sticks. Seagulls, blown inland from the storm, pecked remnants of peanuts Griffin managed to harvest just days before Ivan.”We had gathered 70 acres, and there’s still 30 acres turned up,” Griffin said. “And we still have 200 acres in the ground that we hope will be okay. We were looking at 4,300 pounds per acre, and if it will stay dry for a few days, we can still harvest a good crop.”Griffin had one equipment shed completely leveled by the storm. Another was heavily damaged and was being held up in part by the new John Deere tractor parked under it. Both structures are just a few feet away from the Griffins home that now has a hole in the ceiling of the master bedroom where strong winds tore away parts of the roof. New peanut harvesting equipment stored in a neighbor’s barn also was damaged when that structure collapsed.”I’m just happy we’re all okay,” Griffin said. “But I can tell you this, the next time the news man tells me there is a category 4 hurricane headed in my direction, we’ll lock the door and leave. I will not stay here.”Farmers in Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia and Wilcox counties also suffered heavy losses to cotton, soybeans, corn and timber as did farmers hundreds of miles from the coast like Bob Luker in Talladega County.”A week ago, this was the best corn I had ever grown,” Luker said as he walked across the field covered with flattened stalks heavy with large ears of corn. “We were harvesting 200 to 225 bushels per acre. We’ve got 300 acres on the ground, and most of it is like this. I’ve ordered another corn header to try to pick it up. That will cost close to $35,000. Plus, it will really slow down harvest.”Luker said insurance won’t pay for the bumper crop he lost, and he’s concerned about the quality of what they will manage to harvest. “When you’ve got ears on the ground and shucks are soaked, the kernels will begin to sprout, and we could also have some mold problems.”Ellis Ollinger of Baldwin County, operations/general manager for Flowerwood Nursery, said damage to the state’s coastal greenhouse and nursery industry is still being assessed, but he estimates losses from $2 million to $5 million for his company.”Saltwater blown in by the storm can cause a lot of damage,” Ollinger said. “We lost money before the storm even got here. Just to get ready for the storm, we had to strip our greenhouses of any plastic, otherwise you’re going to end up with a mangled wreck of pipe. We came out good on saving the pipe, but cutting the plastic down cost us $200 per bow, and we have 600 bows–so that’s just money gone. We also lose money from interrupting our planting, and then you have to use that same labor to put the plastic back up before it gets cold.”Ollinger said the loss of electricity caused stress for plants they weren’t able to water properly. That damage may not show up until next spring, he said.”I expect it’s going to be months before we have a real grasp of the extent of damage caused by Hurricane Ivan,” said Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers. He toured farms across the state shortly after the storm with Newby and said he was surprised at the damage he saw.”Much of the focus from the media has been on the coastal residential and business areas, but farmers really took a hard hit from this storm, too,” he said.