Hurricanes Cost Cotton Industry $200 Million

Southeastern farmers lost at least 750,000 bales of cotton worth $205 million to Hurricanes Charley (search), Frances and Ivan, and losses are still being tallied from the latest storm, Jeanne.

Farmers are now scrambling to salvage their remaining cotton and another major crop that matures at about the same time — peanuts.

Worth County, Ga., farmer Johnny Cochran said his crew worked 18 hours the day before Hurricane Jeanne came through Sept. 26, trying to save as much cotton as possible. Still, he estimates the storm's high wind blew 50 to 100 pounds of lint per acre to the ground, where it can't be picked.

Farmers in extreme southwestern Georgia, where the wind was more powerful, were hit even harder by Jeanne, losing up to 60 percent of the crop in some fields, said Steve M. Brown, a University of Georgia cotton specialist.

A final assessment will probably show that Georgia growers, who suffered the greatest damage from Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, lost 25 percent to 35 percent of their $619 million crop, Brown said.

"Jeanne was our worst offender," Brown said. "The cotton was further along. The cotton was open and ready."

In preliminary damage estimates released late last week by the National Cotton Council (search), Georgia, Alabama and Florida lost $205 million worth of lint and cottonseed during Charley, Frances and Ivan.

Alabama's losses were at 275,000 bales of cotton worth $77 million, Georgia lost 400,000 bales worth $112 million and Florida lost 60,000 bales worth $17 million.

Cotton Nelson, a spokesman for the Memphis-based industry group, said officials throughout the Southeast are still assessing Jeanne's devastation.

The loss in one of the nation's prime cotton-growing regions has had little effect on prices, probably because of a large crop expected around the world and in states such as California and Texas, experts say.

"We haven't seen any price increase," said Gary Adams, vice president of the Cotton Council's economics and policy analysis branch. "If fact, prices may be a little lower than they were" before the storms.

The Agriculture Department (search) has forecast a record world crop of 107.2 million bales this year, nearly 13 million bales higher than last, with production likely to exceed consumption. The USDA has also forecast a record U.S. crop of about 21 million bales, an increase of about 4 percent over last year's 18 million bales. The previous record was 20.3 million bales in 2001.

Since August, the December futures price for cotton has dropped from about 50 to 47 cents per pound.