Hurricane Michael Preview

Southeast Cotton and Soybeans at Risk as Hurricane Michael Reaches the U.S.

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Hurricane Michael's path could endanger unharvested crops in the Southeast U.S., particularly Georgia's 1.5 million acres of cotton. (DTN graphic)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- With Hurricane Michael bearing down on the Southeast U.S., much of Georgia's 1.5-million-acre cotton crop will be exposed to torrential rains and high winds on Wednesday and Thursday.

"The Georgia crop is very vulnerable to devastation as it is 90% [opening bolls]," said DTN Cotton Contributing Analyst Keith Brown. "Thus damage may be epic. Much of the cotton area will be on the east side of the eye-wall, the worst point."

The storm, which was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday morning, will also threaten cotton and soybean crops in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. Peanut crops could also be affected.


Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall around Panama City, Florida on Wednesday afternoon, said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Michael Palmerino.

The storm is then forecast to sweep through central and southern Georgia, as well as southeast Alabama, before moving up through the central Carolinas and back out to sea, Palmerino said. Heavy bands of rain will likely dump 4 to 8 inches of rain rapidly in those states, he said.

"The good news is that this storm is going to be accelerating as it comes northward," he added. "It will probably be out of southeast Alabama by early Thursday morning and should be out of Georgia by 2 or 3 p.m. Thursday."

That speed will keep Michael from creating the kind of disastrous flooding that came with Hurricane Florence, which was blocked by high pressure to the north and stalled over the Carolinas, dumping anywhere from 20 to 30 inches of rain, Palmerino said.

"This time, the high pressure is off the coast and the winds coming out of the southwest will pick the storm up in conjunction with a cold front coming across the Midwest right now and accelerate it very quickly out off the coast of Virginia on early Friday morning, and it will get swept out to sea," he said.


Nonetheless, heavy rainfall and extremely strong winds will likely take their toll on cotton and soybeans in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. Georgia cotton is particularly at risk, Brown said in his DTN cotton commentary.

"We are expecting a major wipe-out of the area as copious amounts of rain and super strong winds will pound this crop," he said.

Prior to landfall, Hurricane Michael was gusting up to 150 mph. The hurricane will bring winds from 50 to 80 mph generally in the Panhandle of Florida away from the coast, with gusts nearing 90 mph and major storm surges inundating the Florida Gulf Coast, Palmerino said. Wind speeds for Georgia and Alabama will likely range from 30 to 50 mph, with gusts up to 65 mph. By the time the storm reaches the Carolinas, wind speeds will probably clock in closer to 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph.

As of Oct. 8, USDA estimated that only 12% of Georgia's 1.5 million acres of cotton have been harvested, with 88% bolls opening up. In Alabama, just 19% of the 510,000 cotton acres were harvested, with 88% bolls opening up. Both states were expecting good harvests this year, with 80% of Alabama cotton and 59% of Georgia cotton rated in good-to-excellent condition.

"No doubt the Alabama and Georgia mechanical pickers have been running wide open, 24/7 ahead of the storm, Brown noted in his cotton commentary.

In South Carolina, only 10% of the state's 300,000 cotton acres have been harvested, with 68% bolls opening, and the crop rated 58% in good-to-excellent condition. North Carolina's 430,000 cotton acres were only 8% harvested, with 93% of bolls opening and 33% in good-to-excellent condition.

Soybean acreage in these Southeast states are also vulnerable to the rain and wind. As of Oct. 8, harvest was done for only 11% of North Carolina's 1.6 million acre soybeans, 5% of South Carolina's 420,000 soybean acres, 20% of Georgia's 200,000 soybean acres and 24% of Alabama's 360,000 soybean acres.

Georgia also has 665,000 acres of peanuts, of which 38% are still unharvested. Another 55% have been dug up to dry and -- if left in fields -- will be vulnerable to heavy rains and flooding.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at

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Emily Unglesbee