Southeast U.S. dairy producers and processors continue recovery efforts following Hurricane Michael, while damage assessment and a return to normalcy are ongoing following Hurricane Florence.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Hurricane Michael hit Florida and Georgia on Oct. 10, before moving north. It struck a month after Hurricane Florence, with the most intense damage occurring in South Carolina and North Carolina. (Read: Dairy assessing Hurricane Michael’s impact.)

As of early this week, milk truck access to some dairy farms remained a problem due to downed trees on roads and driveways in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, according to Jim Sleper, Southeast Milk Inc. (SMI) chief executive officer. While he hoped the situation would be resolved soon, some SMI members had no choice but to dump milk, resulting in several days of lost production.

SMI, a dairy cooperative with about 150 members in six states, handles most of the milk marketed into Florida. A majority of its members are in Florida and Georgia.

Power outages also remained an issue, both in the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia, and some farms could be without power for up to two weeks, Sleper said. Of dairy farms relying on generators, finding fuel to operate them was another challenge.


SMI made three standby generators available to members under the cooperative’s Hurricane Preparedness Plan.

“If farmers are unable to power their parlors, even more milk will be lost,” he said. “If they are unable to power their fans, the heat and humidity of the South can bring a lot of stress on the cows. Thankfully, temperatures have started to dip down a bit as fall continues to approach.”

Thus far, minimal loss of dairy animals has been reported.

“Unfortunately, we have received reports from some of our members who have lost some cows and/or calves, mostly due to fallen trees, but the losses could have been so much worse given the strength of this storm,” Sleper said.

Prior to Hurricane Michael, the co-op’s Hurricane Preparedness Plan also included distribution of satellite phones in the event cellular phone towers were taken out, as well as providing chain saws to help clear roads and driveways of fallen trees. Milk truck fuel tanks were topped off, and key SMI employees used a special app to keep co-op leaders up to date on storm happenings.

From the cooperative standpoint, SMI continues to experience delays and other challenges in delivering milk to the Southeast, Sleper said. On top of the hurricane, a nationwide shortage of truck drivers continues to cause headaches delivering milk to customers in a timely manner.

Sleper said the dairy community in the region has rallied to support each other. In addition to support provided by the co-op, farmers are providing assistance to each other, including sending employees, chainsaws, front-end loaders and other equipment to areas suffering damage.

“While natural disasters like hurricanes are certainly horrific events for those affected, it never ceases to amaze me the support the dairy community provides one another,” Sleper said. “Stories continue to emerge of farmers and staff, from SMI and beyond, who have reached out to provide support to those affected by the storm, whether it be furnishing supplies, donations, providing generators and fuel, and much, much more.”

For anyone looking to provide additional donations, he said farmers are looking for water, tarps, fencing materials and tools, and generators and fuel to run them.

Georgia dairy area hit hard

Hurricane Michael’s path took it through the top six dairy counties in Georgia, according to Farrah Newberry, executive director of the Georgia Milk Producers. She said most dairy farmers located in the southwest part of the state had barn damage, downed trees, downed fences and loss of power.

“It could have been much worse,” Newberry said. “Cows and families were kept safe. After Hurricane Irma last September, this area became better prepared for storms. Many bought generators before and after Irma.

“We will feel the impact for a while – especially during this long period of low milk prices,” Newberry said. “Before the storm, Georgia was suffering from a dramatic drop in milk production due to an extremely long, humid summer. We are hurting and afraid that our state will continue to lose dairy farms.”

According to Newberry, a producer meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 22, 2 p.m., at the University of Georgia Tifton Conference Center, Tifton, Georgia. USDA staff will be available to provide updates and information regarding federal disaster programs available to producers affected by Hurricane Michael.

On Oct. 16, the USDA opened a sign-up period for two programs for farmers suffering Hurricane Michael-related livestock mortality and damage to working lands in Georgia. Farmers are eligible to seek USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) financial and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). That program provides funds to address flood and wind damage, excessive runoff that is causing hurricane-related natural resource concerns and provide protection from exceptional storm events in the future.

Additionally, a series of special sign-ups for agricultural livestock mortality and carcass disposal was being conducted for six counties: Baker, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Miller and Seminole.

North Carolina update

North Carolina’s dairy producers and processors suffered some losses from hurricanes Florence and Michael, although the destruction was less intense than that seen by the state’s swine and poultry industries, according to Brittany Whitmire, dairy extension associate with the North Carolina State University.

“The cooperatives in North Carolina reported that farmers and haulers were proactive in preparing for and navigating through the difficulties of both storms,” Whitmire said.

”We did have some milk that was dumped on farms during Florence due to infrastructure impediments, like road closures and impassable roads,” she said. “In addition to the infrastructure, we did have some milk dumping on farms related to power outages/generator failures and not being able to keep milk cool.

“Michael's winds caused power outages in its wake, including at a milk processing plant that was offline for about 24 hours,” Whitmire said.

Cotton, cottonseed hit hard

While the fear of damage from last month’s Hurricane Florence to North Carolina’s cottonseed crop has been downgraded, initial indications are that Hurricane Michael had a devastating impact in South Carolina and Georgia. A complete visual assessment of the area’s cotton crop hasn’t been possible, but gin operators and growers report major damage, according to Nigel Adcock, with Cottonseed LLC.

Among all states, Georgia ranked second in terms of 2018 cotton acreage and 2017 cottonseed harvest, behind only Texas; North Carolina ranked seventh and South Carolina was 10th.

Due to logistics, cottonseed produced in North Carolina and South Carolina has an economic advantage to move to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan dairy markets, so a majority of the cottonseed produced in Georgia has either been crushed or exported to the Pacific Rim and the Middle East. Some of it is marketed to Florida dairy farms.

North Carolina’s cottonseed crop received less damage from Hurricane Florence than anticipated, especially in the northeast part of the state where most of the cotton is grown. Adcock said conversations with a South Carolina testing lab owner indicate it’s too early to determine the quality of the cottonseed, given the small number of new-crop samples.

USDA’s October Crop Production report was compiled prior to Hurricane Michael, and the storm’s impact may not be realized for months, Adcock said. In that report, USDA adjusted the cottonseed harvest slightly higher, to 6.18 million tons, projected as the second-largest U.S. harvest since 2007.

USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report indicated about 20 percent of Georgia’s cotton crop had been harvested as of Oct. 14, with a slightly lower harvest percentage completed in North Carolina and South Carolina.  end mark

PHOTO: Following Hurricane Michael, the frame is all that remains from a shed used for hay storage on a Georgia farm. Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Dave Natzke