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Tropical systems can help and hurt Georgia's largest row crop

Devastating weather has caused billions of dollars in losses over the last decade

PULASKI COUNTY, Georgia — With over $74 billion in economic impact yearly, agribusiness is Georgia's leading industry.

It's also highly vulnerable when it comes to weather and tropical systems.

Austin Warbington is a third-generation cotton farmer at Warbington Farms.

They plant cotton on seventy percent of their land, and he says this year, the stakes went up on getting a crop to market.

"This is also the most expensive crop we're going to grow in my experience and probably my father and grandfather's experience as well," he projected. "Due to the cost of production, fertilizer is up greatly.  Pest control stuff is really through the roof."

Austin says timing is everything.

A weak tropical system blowing through right now would help irrigate his main crop.

But come September, the table turns.

"When Hurricane Michael came through, we were so exposed and so vulnerable," he recalled.  "That's a day around here no one will forget."

Taylor Sills is the executive director of the Georgia Cotton Commission.

"In Hurricane Michael, we lost 350million dollars out of the economy," he calculated.

"We checked in with Georgia Farm Bureau, and they estimate big hurricanes have done over four billion dollars worth of damage.

Michael accounts for over half of that number because of its effects on cotton and pecan trees that take years to grow back and mature.

But Matthew devastated the peach state, and Irma cost 100 million for cotton farmers and another 100 million for pecan farmers.

"There's really nothing you can do. We're at the mercy of the lord, "Warbington said.

Warbington will hope for this kind of a picture this fall sunny skies and big snowy blooms, and until then, he'll keep working the field with an eye on the radar.


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