JAY — Outside the family-owned Burkhead Gin Company, the smell of “rottin’ cotton,” a smell similar to manure, permeates the air.

This "rottin' cotton" was the product of a very harsh 2018 for local farmers due to heavy and seemingly never ceasing rainfall.

"The people that were hit dead on by (Hurricane Michael) lost theirs overnight," Jerry Davis, a Jay cotton and peanut farmer. "Ours was a slow death, but in the end it was still a death."

According to the National Weather Service, the Pensacola area received about 90 inches of rain last year, and Crestview got more than 78 inches. Mickey Diamond, a Jay cotton and peanut farmer, said his area saw about 100 inches.

Farmers have always battled weather. In 2004 many area farmers suffered big losses because of Hurricane Ivan, and some of them never recovered.

A tale as old as time: some years are better than others.

From the farm to the gin, this tale turned truth for local agriculture in 2018.

'The timing'

Most cotton farmers try to finish harvesting their crop before Thanksgiving, but last year made it impossible.

"When you get a rain event of several inches, sometimes it can take three or four days before the cotton's dry enough to harvest," said Shannon Nixon, a farmer in Baker. "You might get one (dry) day out of a week, sometimes two. Then, it rains again and the cycle repeats itself.

"Sometimes it's not the accumulation of rain, it's the timing. ... We would have been better off if we got 20 inches in one rain and then it got out of here."

During the harvest season, farmers faced heavy rains with tropical storm Gordon in September and then Hurricane Michael in October. Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties didn't receive the brunt of the storm, but still weathered heavy rain for days after it hit.

For some, the rain became an issue well before harvest. Rainfall in May delayed planting.

Diamond said many times during harvest, they would have one day to get in every bit of crop they could before the next rainfall. That left them with many sleepless nights.

Davis joked that during harvest he slept like a baby — constantly waking up in the middle of the night crying.

Although Davis laughed, he said there was some truth to the effect a bad harvest has on a farmer's state of mind.

The loss

Most cotton will not fully survive in very humid, wet weather or soil, Diamond said.

"(The rain) made our cotton rot premature before it even opened up," he said.

Cotton is sensitive to soil moisture. When waterlogged for an extended period of time, oxygen can be prevented from reaching the roots, which can result in "seedling death" or rotting.

Diamond said some of the harvested cotton wasn't good enough to be processed through the cotton gin, which separates the cotton fibers from the plant, resulting in even more losses.

"One problem led right to another," he said.

Martin Tucker, a Walton County farmer, said he took a large hit. He harvested only 38 to 68 percent of marketable cotton on his 1,100-acre farm.

Nixon suffered a 35 percent reduction from 2017 in crop yield.

Some farmers waited until it was completely dry to harvest cotton. Sherre Burkhead, whose husband owns Burkhead Gin, said farmers were bringing in cotton modules, which are large bales of harvested cotton, in January, something that's doesn't often happen.

Burkhead said the rains that continued for weeks made it difficult for farmers to pick the cotton. Even when the cotton was picked, the gin employees couldn't get out to the areas to pick up the cotton modules because of water causing the cotton to sit for extended periods of time.

Cotton absorbs that moisture, and putting damp cotton though the gin can cause mechanical problems. Much of the damaged cotton ran through the gin turns out to be yellow, which lowers the grade and lowers the revenue for the farmer and the gin.

"One process leads to another," Diamond said. "We can't pick it on time, we can't get out of the field on time. It's just one process after another that has affected our crop."

"We farm also, so from a farmer's standpoint, that's devastating because the insurance company won't give but pennies on the dollar if they can't come through the gin to prove what they did lose," Burkhead said.

Most farmers have crop insurance, but Nixon said that isn't always enough.

"Even with crop insurance, you're still at a loss," Nixon said.

‘The good Lord’

Farmers have always battled weather, economics and time itself.

But as planting season for this year approaches, they say faith was a driving force that would carry them through the next year, good or bad.

"I myself rely on the good Lord," Nixon said. "I do believe in divine intervention. I know that's not politically correct. I think most farmers that do farm have a basic understanding that God gives the increase."

"Faith carries us all," Diamond said.

"Faith in the good Lord," Tucker said when asked what keeps him going. "You just can't worry or it'd drive you crazy.

"You pick up the pieces and you go on."