NOEL KING, HOST:
When Hurricane Michael plowed through southwest Georgia, it hit that area's farms like a bomb. Cotton fields near harvest were blown bare, and decades-old pecan groves were leveled. GPB's Grant Blankenship visited a pecan farm in southwest Georgia to see how the recovery is progressing.
GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: Tucked away in a corner of the Pine Knoll Pecan Grove near the town of Pretoria, Ga., is one of those things that Mitch Bulger says makes living and working here worth it.
MITCH BULGER: I promise you, you stick your finger in that, that's the coldest water. There goes a duck.
BLANKENSHIP: A flock of about half a dozen water birds fly through cypress trees bordering a bubbling, spring-fed pool. And yes, this summer swimming hole is, in fact, cold.
BULGER: (Laughter) A lot of fun back here.
BLANKENSHIP: Bulger's been the farm manager at Pine Knoll for 20 years. The family that owns the plantation is mostly scattered to Colorado and Rhode Island. But for Bulger, this is the only home his kids have ever known.
BULGER: This means everything to me.
BLANKENSHIP: Which is why the scene at our backs hurts so much. It's one of the thousands of the farm's pecan trees laid low by Hurricane Michael. And this one was a real moneymaker.
BULGER: One of the oldest varieties there is.
BLANKENSHIP: It's actually called a moneymaker?
BULGER: It's actually called a moneymaker. Here's the biggest one, Grant, this one right here.
BLANKENSHIP: Its ripped-up taproot is encased in red clay. And maybe 30 yards away, pecans are piled like gravel in a dry stream bed between enormous tree trunks. The nuts could still be gathered by hand, if only someone would do the work.
BULGER: I had a crew Monday, and now I don't have a crew. So... (Laughter). I paid them 25 cent, and they still didn't stay.
BLANKENSHIP: That's 25 cents a pound, and that works out to about $25 a day. In an average year, these nuts would have been headed to China - not this year, and not because of the weather, but because of the U.S.-China trade war. Now?
BULGER: I don't know that we can supply what our Americans will need.
BLANKENSHIP: There's still money to be made in a grove of far younger trees, though it didn't escape damage.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW)
BLANKENSHIP: Thousands of these trees must be cut down, too. Still, Bulger says the younger trees are the long-term future of the Pine Knoll plantation. But in the short term?
BULGER: We got those lean years coming ahead of us, and we'll - you know, we'll work around them.
BLANKENSHIP: Mitch Bulger says that means replanting and tending and waiting - for decades. Then he's hopeful he'll see the Pine Knoll Pecan Plantation thick with moneymakers again.
For NPR News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Pretoria, Ga.
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