By Debra Davis
LOXLEY, Ala., Sept. 28 — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with south Alabama farmers in Loxley today to learn more about the devastation from Hurricane Sally, which struck Alabama Sept. 16.
The storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain and packed winds estimated at 105 miles per hour as it slowly rumbled through south Alabama. It inflicted heavy damage to what appeared to be an excellent pecan crop and unknown damage to promising harvests of cotton, peanuts and soybeans.
“President Trump very quickly declared these three counties (Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile) as presidential disaster areas, which opened up USDA’s safety nets and disaster programs,” Perdue said.
The secretary said today’s listening session will help make sure USDA appropriates resources and personnel to help farmers as they recover from the storm.
Roundtable members included Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell, Federation State Board member Mark Kaiser of Seminole, Baldwin County Farmers Federation President Hope Cassebaum and Baldwin County Board members Joel Sirmon and Ray Bertolla.
Cassebaum, a third-generation Baldwin County farmer who lives near Lillian, said her farm was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sally. Since the storm, she said much of the work on their farm has been to clear fields so they could continue harvest.
“This storm wasn’t what anyone in our area expected,” said Cassebaum, who said predictions indicated the storm would make landfall farther west and wouldn’t pack such a punch. “Then all of the sudden, it got much worse. We were prepared, just not as much as we would have been. We’re going to survive because this is what we love to do. It’s in our blood, and it’s our way of life. They’ll be a lot of cleanup for a long time.”
Farmers said the pecan crop in Mobile and Baldwin counties were all but destroyed this year. However, they appeared more concerned about the significant loss of trees, which will never produce another crop. Some farmers said as many as 40% of their trees were lost to the storm.
Farmers said they are concerned Hurricane Sally will impact both the yields and quality of their cotton, soybeans and peanuts. The extent of damage to those crops will become clearer as harvest begins.
Parnell said the storm was especially bad because farmers appeared to be on track for a good year, possibly an excellent year for all crops. He thanked Perdue for the new hurricane insurance product developed by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). RMA Director Martin Barbre visited Alabama last year and met with coastal farmers about hurricane risks.
“I’m not sure how many of these farmers have the new hurricane insurance, but for the ones who have it and have talked to me about it, the comments have been nothing but positive. They believe it is really going to help them,” Parnell said.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., was part of the roundtable as was Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate and Gov. Kay Ivey’s Chief of Staff Jo Bonner. Byrne thanked President Trump and Perdue for their quick response to help Alabama farmers.
“I know almost every one of these farmers personally,” said Byrne. “I can tell you there are no finer people in the country. They are the most resilient, and they will come back, but they need our help.”