Ag News

Easter storms strike Georgia agriculture

by Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau

Posted on Apr 15, 2020 at 0:00 AM

By Jennifer Whittaker

Easter 2020 will go down in Georgia history.

COVID-19 necessitated that Georgians observe the sacred holiday sheltering in place at their homes, forgoing sunrise services, Easter cantatas, extended family gatherings and Easter egg hunts. The rainy day matched the mood of the times, a forewarning of the menacing storm system moving towards our state.

According to National Weather System (NWS) reports, almost 30 tornadoes touched down in Georgia from 8:15 p.m., April 12 through 8:11 a.m. April 13, striking terror in the hearts of many rural Georgians across the state. Most Georgians fortunate to live outside a tornado’s path still felt the fury of severe thunderstorms and flatline winds in some areas.


According to National Weather System (NWS) reports, almost 30 tornadoes touched down in Georgia from 8:15 p.m., April 12 through 8:11 a.m. April 13, striking terror in the hearts of many rural Georgians across the state. Most Georgians fortunate to live outside a tornado’s path still felt the fury of severe thunderstorms and flatline winds in some areas.

As of April 22, the National Weather Service has confirmed tornadoes touched down in the following counties (listed in chronological order according to the time the tornado first struck) Chattooga/Walker; Murray, Dade, Catoosa, Floyd #s 1&2, Bartow, Cherokee, Harris, Talbot, Upson/Lamar, Fulton, Monroe, Hall/Habersham/Banks/Stephens, Bibb, Putnam, Greene, Washington #s1-3, Washington/Jefferson, Worth/Tift, Screven, Irwin, Coffee, Wayne, Long and Liberty/Bryan counties.

As they took stock of their losses and cleaned debris, multiple farmers across Georgia were gracious enough to speak with Georgia Farm Bureau reporters John Holcomb, Jay Stone and Jennifer Whittaker. Keep them and the many other farmers and Georgia residents the following stories represent in your prayers.

Northwest Ga. farmers vow to carry on

An EF-2 tornado touched down in Murray County in Northwest Georgia at 9:45 p.m. about 4 miles northwest of Chatsworth and traveled 7.8 miles in 10 minutes with peak winds of 135 mph before ending about 3.6 miles southwest of Cisco. The Pritchett and Lents farms were in the tornado’s path.

Wyle Pritchett found the chicken houses at one of his farms to be okay when he checked on them in response to the first alarm notice the computer system that monitors his chicken houses sent him. Things didn’t stay that way.

“We came to check our alarm and of course everything was fine. We reset our alarms and started back towards the other farm and received another  alarm,” Pritchett said. “When we got the second alarm, we were just about two miles up the road. We turned and came back.”

The Pritchetts arrived about the same time a tornado hit their chicken houses, ripping the houses apart. It flipped the truck they were in over. They eventually got out and found cover.

“We’re going to be fine, whatever ends up happening.  It’s kind of uncertain at this point,” Pritchett said. “We still have four other houses. We’d like to rebuild and be back to the point where we were at, but we’ll just kind of have to wait and see what happens, I guess and see what we can do.”

The Murray County tornado also hit Lents Farms’ cattle operation, destroying fencing, snapping trees like toothpicks and even killing some cattle.

“We’re probably going to put up another six thousand feet of fence just to get it back to where it was. Obviously, all of the trees we lost, there’s not a lot of shade left on this side of the property for cattle especially with it fenced off with temporary,” Mark Lents, farm manager, said. “So far, I think we’ve found about eight dead cows. It’s so mangled it’s hard to get in there and find everything, and I think right now [April  17] we probably have ten or twelve [cows] unaccounted for and really don’t know where they’re at.”

Even in the midst of their farms’ devastation, both Pritchett and Lents expressed their desire to pick up the pieces and press on.

“Every day is a challenge with a farmer. You know, it’s just part of this lifestyle. You just face those challenges and work right through whatever happens,” Pritchett said. “Most of the time you don’t know what your income is going to be. You don’t know what your expenses are going to be. You just kind of learn to adapt to that, just face it and carry on. That’s what we’ll do now. We’ll just carry on. We don’t know exactly what the future’s going to be, but we know we’re going to be ok.”

For Lents,  his blessings outweighed his losses.

“What we lost, the fences, the cattle, and the big mess, all the trees down – it’s bad, but the fences can be put back up; cattle can be replaced, and we’re just very fortunate that nobody was hurt during all of this.

Farm Monitor reporter John Holcomb contributed this information.


Aunt Em’s house lands in Upson County

A photo of a one-story white frame house sitting in the middle of Hwy. 74 in Upson County went viral the morning of April 13. The jarring image, which looked like Aunt  Em’s house in the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy comes to after the storm, was one of hundreds documenting the wreckage an EF-3 tornado, with peak winds of 140 mph, left in its wake.

Unfortunately for Upson County residents, the tornado they lived through was no dream.

“A friend in Taylor County called me and woke me up saying she was watching TV and the weatherman was saying a tornado was about to hit Holloway, Andrews Chapel and Trinity Roads,” recalled Jim Craft. “I got off the phone, grabbed my son, Justin, and got us in the closet. It only lasted about 20 to 30 seconds and it was gone. It was moving so fast.”

Jim estimates the storm came within 100 yards of his house. Fortunately, Jim’s home escaped damage as did that of his other son, Jordan, who lives with his wife, Laura, and their two children, Sophie and Corbin, about 800 feet away from Jim.

After the storm, Jim said there were so many trees down that it took him an hour and a half to get to his sister and brother-in-law’s house, Terrie and Eddie Duke, which is normally only a 2-minute drive away, due to the many downed trees that had to be cut.

“The frustration to me was I couldn’t get to my sister, Terrie, to see if she was okay. The roads were covered with trees, and I didn’t have cell service,” Jim said.

Jim also checked in on Jim and Betty Wagner, neighbors whose farm he utilizes to pasture cattle.  Before the storm, Wagner’s farm – located on Rock Road off of HWY 74, about two miles from Jim’s house - included a pecan orchard with trees about 100 years old. Jim estimates the tornado left less than 10% of the orchard standing and said the remaining trees would probably need to be pushed down because they are so broken up.

Jim has a commercial cow-calf herd of crossbred cattle spread across three different farms he utilizes. He was grazing about 30 mama cows with about 20 calves ranging from newborns to seven months in the Wagner pecan orchard when the storm struck.

“They’re so scared and terrified,” Jim said of his cows on April 16.

He had a few cattle limping due to injuries after the storm and one cow with an eye injury.

“I can’t take them and sell them because the cattle market is so depressed, and we haven’t had a cattle sale at the sale barn here in two weeks (as of April 16),” Jim said.

Another farm Jim utilizes on Rest Haven Road had about 40 trees blown down. He has met with USDA Farm Service Agency staff to explore the possibility of cost-share cleanup programs.

“Farmers have to pay for the cleanup up front and then turn in receipts to the FSA to get a partial reimbursement. It costs money to get the cleanup done. I’m just trying to think about it and pray about how to get this cleanup done,” Jim said. “Even if the FSA program doesn’t work out, I know it’s all going to work out. I know the good Lord loves me. His promise is that ‘All things work together for good for them that love the Lord,’ Jim said quoting Romans 8:28. “There have been good things come out of this, like members of Faith Baptist Church from LaGrange driving over here to help clear downed trees. They spent all day cleaning up the Wagner’s driveway.”

Not too far away from Jim Craft, farms belonging to Will Bentley, his dad, Danny, and uncle, Tommy Farr, also took a hit. Will estimates the tornado directly hit about 200 acres of his and his dad’s farms including some rental land.

“It touched down at my uncle’s house first and knocked down a bunch of timber and then ripped through my dad’s farm. Once it left my dad’s place it jumped over the hill and ripped right through my land. I probably lost 30 acres of hardwood timber and dad lost trees along his fencing and throughout his barn yard,” Will said. “I’d say we probably have about three to four miles of fences damaged or destroyed from uprooted trees that fell on our fencing. Luckily, we had other parts of our farms not impacted that still have fencing. If we don’t get it [fencing ] fixed quick, we’ll have to feed in confined areas to hold on to them [cows].

The week before the storm struck, the Bentleys cut a 20-acre field of ryegrass for hay.

“We had about thirty 1,200-pound round bales still left in the field and most of them are just gone. We don’t know where they are. There are probably only three bales left in the field,” Will said.

The Bentley’s were towards the end of their calving season when the storm struck.

“Our cows have been calving for the last 60 days or so and we still have some left to calve.

We got them all in pasture that have fences,” Will said. “They’re all accounted for, so we’ve turned our focus to other places.”

“When you think about it [storm damage] as a whole, you wonder how you’ll overcome it, but as the days pass, we will. No lives were lost. That’s what’s important. Over the next year or so we’ll get it back to normal as much as we can,” Will said.  “We know our neighbors lost way more than we did. We lost stuff that time and money can fix. A lot of our immediate neighbors lost roofs, barns and tractors. Some of our neighbors lost their homes.”

According to the NWS, the tornado that hit Upson and Lamar counties affected 159 structures, including minor damage to 38 homes, major damage to 20, and the destruction of seven. 

GFB News Reporter Jay Stone contributed information to this section.


Storm seasons a young farmer


Stephens County Farm Bureau Vice President Clay Black is one of Farm Bureau’s active Young Farmers and Ranchers. Years from now, Black, who will soon turn 28, is likely to still be talking about the storm he experienced April 13.

“I woke up to one of those [weather] alerts on my phone. I got up and it was lightning so much it looked like strobe lights were going off outside,” Black said.

Clay & his wife, Annalise,  hurriedly drove two/tenths of a mile to ride out the storm with his parents, Dennis & Teresa Black,  in their basement.

“The worst of the storm hit about three in the morning and lasted until about 3:30,” Clay said.

 The NWS in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, reports that an EF-1 tornado touched down in Stephens County on April 13. It was tracked from Boydville and moved northeast to Eastanollee at 3:06 a.m. The NWS estimates the tornado’s maximum wind speed was 110mph with a maximum path width of 500 yards and a path length of 8.7 miles. 

Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities. Damage consisted mostly of trees being uprooted or snapped over the wide area, with some structural damage to homes.

The storm didn’t damage the Black Family’s farm, Clay said, but it did leave their poultry farm without power requiring them to run a generator until about 6:30 p.m. April 13, to keep the feeders and waters and climate control in their chicken houses operating.

The story, however, was much different five miles away from the Blacks’ farm, at a farm they lease from Darwin Carter off Highway 17.  Clay said a Farm Service Agency employee counted more than 300 downed trees at this farm.

“It looks like a bomb went off,” Clay said of the huge pines, oaks, poplars and cedar trees the tornado felled at the Carter farm. “Mr. Carter’s farm is set up in four different pastures. Thankfully, the pasture our cows were in didn’t get hit as hard as other parts of the farm.”

This pasture still had about 20 trees blown down in it, Clay estimated.

The Blacks were pasturing 20 pairs of mama cows with five to six-month old calves two months away from weaning at the Carter farm. As of April 15, Clay was planning to move the cattle to another farm until he could fix the fencing.

Clay estimates he’ll need to completely redo fencing or repair the majoring of fencing around 50 to 60 acres of pasture.

“I guess this is just part of it [farming],” Clay said philosophically. “It’s hard looking at all this cleanup knowing that you’ve got this to do now on top of the daily work we’ve got at the chicken houses and with the cows that still has to be done.”


Turbulence hits tobacco country


A system of high winds and heavy rain swept across Georgia’s Southeast tobacco fields during the early morning of April 13, according to UGA Extension Agronomist Dr. J. Michael Moore. He reported that some tobacco was slightly damaged by windblown sand driven by high winds but expected most of the affected tobacco plants to survive.

“While the earliest transplanted tobacco was taken to the field around March 24,  most of the tobacco transplanted during the week before Easter was smaller and had just begun to take root,” Moore wrote in his April 13 Georgia Tobacco Hotline newsletter.

Berrien County farmer Lamar Vickers, who farms with his brother, Carlos, and Lamar’s son, Bradley, estimates his family lost about 10% of their tobacco crop to wind sand blasting from the April 13 storm. The Vickers finished planting their crop on April 4.

While they had a few trees blown down during the April 13 storm, their major losses came during thunderstorms on April 9 and April 19.

During the April 9 storm,  the Vickers lost 19 mama cows, a bull and nine yearlings to a lightning strike when a huge oak tree the cattle were standing under was struck.

On April 19, lightning struck a grain combine at Vickers Farm, blowing up the combine’s computer and electrical system.

The NWS reported an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 90 mph touched down in Irwin County southwest of Ocilla at 5:59 a.m. with a path length of 3.96 miles. Damage included uprooted and snapped trees and downed power lines.

Irwin County ag damage from the tornado included snapped pine trees and hardwood damage and several pivots were overturned impacting several farmers in the southern part of the county, Irwin County Extension Coordinator Phillip Edwards said. 


Winds whip Wayne County

Wayne County producer Kristy Arnold lives about six miles from Odum, where the NWS confirms an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 110 mph touched down at 7:25 a.m. on April 13. Tornado alerts went off on her and her husband, Robert’s, phones twice before hitting their farm around 7 a.m.

“We had enough time to get in the one room of the house with no windows,” Kristy recalled. “It was just like an Amtrak coming through. It lasted just minutes and then it was over with.”

 Storm recovery will take much longer.

The storm tore off large sections of the roofs on three barns - two equipment barns and one livestock barn - within 500 steps of the Arnolds’ house. The storm also blew down 20 to 35 trees across the farm, destroying fences. The Arnolds spent all day April 13 with chainsaws getting trees off fences.

During a phone interview on April 14, Kristy said fixing fences was her biggest concern at the time.

“It’s amazing what a storm can do. No cattle were lost or hurt thank goodness,” Kristy said. “It’s nothing life threatening. Everybody’s safe. It’s just a lot of material damage.”

About 10 miles away from the Arnolds, the storm also struck Poppell Farms, a Georgia Farm Bureau Certified Farm Market. Tanya Poppell said two of the farm’s barn roofs were damaged along with an irrigation system and trees were downed.

Poppell uses the irrigation system to irrigate her field of Silver King Corn that she sells at her farm market.

As of April 20, Poppell was  still waiting on a repairman to tell her if the irrigation system was fixable or not. 

“We do not have a backup irrigation system,” Poppell said. “Fingers crossed it can be fixed!”

Fortunately, the storm didn’t hurt the Poppells' corn crop.

“Our corn is about two feet tall. The storm laid it over but it’s already standing back up,” Tanya said on April 14.

Tanya classified her farm’s damage as minor compared to what the storm did to Odum.

“There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason of what it damaged. It looks like there was no straight path,” Tanya said.

WTOC 11 reported the tornado damaged or destroyed more than  30 homes in Wayne County.





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