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After Ivan...Coastal nurseries face market losses
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi plant nurseries mostly succeeded in minimizing damage from Hurricane Ivan, but their biggest challenges still may be ahead of them.
Fred Croom has been running Croom's Nursery in George County for four years. As Hurricane Ivan approached, he removed the shade cloth and plastic from his greenhouses and waited out the storm. After Ivan passed, Croom's 19 greenhouses, 10,000 mums, 4,000 ferns and 20,000 pansies were mostly fine, but his market in Mobile was gone.
"The people in the Mobile area have so much damage, they don't want these plants," Croom said. "I'm hoping as people get their yards cleaned up, they will be in the mood to buy new plants."
Since the storm, Croom has been on the phone trying to find buyers outside the hurricane zone. He likely will have to drop his price in hopes of selling some.
"We probably didn't have more than $5,000 in (structural) damage, but I'm looking at $20,000 worth of plants," Croom said. "Every year, we run out of mums by the first of October, but this year, we may have every one of them."
At Barnhill Farms in Lucedale, Phillip Barnhill is facing similar concerns. Some of his plant sales to Mobile, Birmingham, Pensacola and Atlanta have been put on hold.
"There will be some replacement sales, but the first thing people are going to do is fix their homes. They won't be worried about plants," Barnhill said.
David Tatum is a plant and soil sciences professor and state nursery specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. He said nursery owners were fortunate to have ample time to prepare for the hurricane, but predicting the best course of action is a challenge.
"How you prepare for a hurricane will depend on the types of plants you grow and the types of houses you keep them in," Tatum said. "Growers had to decide which risk they wanted to take: risking the structure and saving the crop or putting the crop at risk and trying to save the structure."
Tatum said woody ornamentals are not as vulnerable to high winds and rains as some flowering plants such as poinsettias.
Murray Goff has owned Murray's Nursery in Jackson County since 1976. He lost five out of 20 greenhouses and one tractor shed. He said he feels fortunate.
"Greenhouses are very vulnerable. I've learned to strip the greenhouses as much as possible, but greenhouses can be replaced; people cannot," Goff said. "Every plant in the field was turned over and that probably saved them. Some got burn damage on the tops of leaves from the wind, but they will recover."
Some of the worst damage was reported in the Meridian area. Dennis Morgan runs Morgan Plant Farm in Toomsuba with 85 plant houses. He reported structural damage in the $50,000 range.
"We thought we were safe up here. We got about 3 inches of rain, but the winds did the most damage," Morgan said. "We were fortunate not to lose any plants."
Jeff Howell has 40 greenhouses at his Rocky Creek Nursery in George County. While he did not have structural damage, Howell said he did learn a valuable lesson from this storm.
"We probably did more preparation than necessary, but you can't be too prepared, " Howell said. "After (Hurricane) Frederick, I swore I'd never stay home for another, but now I really can't leave because of the business."