Pecan Ridge Plantation
VICE PRESIDENT: Sonny, you want to say a word?
SECRETARY PERDUE: Well, you hear the stories and these are some of our best farmers in Southwest Georgia. These folks don’t ask for a lot help, but the devastation is more than we’ve ever seen.
You see around here these trees mature — it’s amazing what the trees — and we don’t have a good pecan crop, and we’ve got sweet corn on the ground. We’ve got facilities down, just like you just saw, right here.
And the problem is these people have peanuts — they don’t have power, nor do they have elevators to unload the peanuts, so the peanuts are going to (inaudible) in the ground if they can’t get them dug and unloaded. Cotton, if it hadn’t been blown away, then some of the similar problems at the (inaudible) too.
But these folks are, was you know, the heart and soul of America. And they’ll be back, just like Eric and Rob. They’re going to get back up, but they need our help.
VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Governor?
GOVERNOR DEAL: Well, first of all, I want to thank you and Karen for coming today and seeing this amount of devastation, which is truly overwhelming. We know that we have a great partnership working at the state level, working with your Secretary of Agriculture, and with you and with the President. And we appreciate the fact he was here yesterday and that you’re here today. It means a lot to people when they’re hurting. And these people are hurt.
We’re going to all work cooperatively together as we have up to this point. Still, the restoration of power is an issue. But Georgia Power is getting very close to completing all of their customers being back in service.
We are going to see the EMCs and MEAG, which is a municipal organization — they will be coming right behind them. Georgia Power apparently has a cooperative agreement with the EMCs that, when they’re finished, they will ship their crews over to help the EMCs. And many of these people’s homes are served, I’m sure, the EMCs.
So we’re making real progress, considering all of the devastation. Debris removal, of course, was the first and still continues to be a big part of the problem. Had to remove some debris just in order to get the power trucks in to be able to do their work. So it’s a long-term proposition, but agriculture is significantly affected, more than any other part of our economy. And this is a prime example of exactly what has occurred.
Thank you for being here.
VICE PRESIDENT: You bet. Well, thank you, Governor. And I want to thank our senators and congressmen who are with us today, and to Secretary Perdue.
Karen and I are very moved by what we’ve seen. When you see the violence of this storm, and the landscape, and the impact on homes in the area, I can’t help but feel thankful, first and foremost, to God and to our first responders. I mean, to see old grove trees snapped like toothpicks, to see landscape swept away like it’s been, it just tells me that our first responders on the ground did an incredible job with God’s grace. And we’re grateful to them today.
I’m really here just to assure all of you that we’re going to stay with you through all of this. We know that there are traditional means of support for agriculture. And also, for disaster assistance — FEMA is on the ground working very closely with local officials and state officials in the assessment process. USDA and our local farm agents are going to work very closely with people for traditional pathways of support.
But we also understand that this represents generational loss. To see these four-year-old pecan trees down, right about the time that they were getting close to producing, taking 10 years to get all the way back. And I just want to assure you that we get it. We need to do more. Hurricane Michael was a generational storm, and we’re going to address it that way, working with the leaders in Congress. And in the city and on the farm, we’re going to bring this region all the way back.
And so I want to thank all of you for taking time away from what I know is a very challenging time for your operations and your families. Thank you for helping to tell the story. And I just want to assure you that we’re with you and we’re going to stay with you.
And for Georgia, for Florida, for Alabama, and for all of the families and communities impacted, we truly do believe that we’re going to rebuild bigger and better than ever before.
So thank you for being here. And God bless you all, and your families.
SECRETARY PERDUE: Mr. Vice President, we said it yesterday, but Governor Deal has talked about — I was eight years before him — we’ve never had the access and integration with the state and the federal resources than we’ve had with this administration. I want to thank you and President Trump for just bringing all of those local, state, and federal resources together to serve the same people. And it’s refreshing to know where your heart is and that you all are going to be with these folks.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We will. And we’ll be counting on every agency in the government to do that.
Any questions for any of us or any of these attendees? Please.
Q Can we hear from the Cohens a little bit more about the losses they’ve sustained, and the reactions to the state and federal responses?
MR. ERIC COHEN: I mean, we’ve lost this farm, basically. I mean, because — we had (inaudible) for the crops this year, but it’s the replant issue. And next year, I got to — I mean, you know, the farmer in me makes me want to farm this, but there’s no way I can make it. Next year is the year I’ll lose it, because we’re not like the cotton guy. Nothing against them, but they get to replant a seed next year. I don’t. That’s what I got. I mean, with the programs we have — I mean, it’s just the way it is.
Q And how has the state and federal been to this disaster?
MR. ERIC COHEN: Fantastic. You can tell — I mean, it’s unbelievable the way the state acted.
Q Anything else you all need?
MR. ERIC COHEN: Just prayer.
MR. ROB COHEN: Just prayer.
MR. ERIC COHEN: I mean, we’ll make it, my brother and I. We built this business from nothing. We’ll make it. Doesn’t mean I’ll be in the pecan business, but I’ll be doing something else. But we’re fighters, and that’s the way you are. You just have to go on.
MR. ROB COHEN: First of all, we want to thank our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for saving us through the storm. I mean, my family is safe. His family is safe. That is the most important part. We can replant these pecan trees and build the business back. That can be done.
Q What was the storm like?
MR. ROB COHEN: It was bad. It was terrifying.
MR. ERIC COHEN: Unbelievable. And this — I’m telling you, the west of here, it’s unreal.
MR. ROB COHEN: It’s a like warzone.
MR. ERIC COHEN: It’s a warzone.
PARTICIPANT: Twenty miles west of here, where their daddy lives, it’s total devastation. There’s no tree standing.
MR. ROB COHEN: Yeah, my dad’s 100 acres of pecan grove that he’s had for 50 years is just nothing.
MR. ERIC COHEN: Gone.
MR. ROB COHEN: Gone. He’s 75. What he’s worked for his whole life.
MR. ERIC COHEN: That’s who I’m worried about. That was his retirement.
MR. ROB COHEN: Just gone. Wiped away.
MR. ERIC COHEN: I mean, that’s the reality of this situation.
And you look on the ground, our crop — we were literally starting to shake pecans. But it’s gone.
Q This is a complete loss?
MR. ERIC COHEN: Complete loss.
Q And how many acres?
MR. ERIC COHEN: There’s 400 here. But we’re 1,400 acres, and we lost 800 acres. Gone. Just like that.
Q I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the losses.
MR. ERIC COHEN: I mean — but like I said, we’ll rebuild. It may not be in the pecan business, but we’ll fight our way through it, somewhat —
Q Thank you for sharing your story.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Anything else?
Q Mr. Vice President, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the deficit jumping 17 percent, if you have any comment that? Just while we’re talking about the economy a little bit.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. We finished the fiscal year. And look, this is a President that has been working to sharpen pencils in the federal government, looking for savings in appropriations, in defense appropriations.
And I can assure you that now that we have this economy growing again — an economy, in the second quarter of this year, that grew by more than twice the rate that it grew on average over the last 16 years — 4.2 percent growth — that now we believe we have the momentum in the economy that, when we had fiscal responsibility and discipline to that, we’re going to be able to bring that deficit down. And that will be a real focus of this administration going forward.
But everything, as the President said many times, it all begins with growth and rolling back regulations, cutting taxes, unleashing American energy, supporting American agriculture with the new trade deal that we just announced with the United States and Mexico and Canada. That’s all a part of making sure we have a growing economy.
Agriculture has been impacted here. Families in the city and on the farm have been impacted greatly by Hurricane Michael. We’re going to be there with government programs. We’re going to work closely with members of Congress to make sure that the support is there to bring these communities back. But we know, ultimately, we need the backstop of a growing economy, and that’s also the antidote to government deficits and debt.
Q One last thing. Just while we’ve been here, the President has been tweeting a little bit about Saudi Arabia. I was just wondering if you thought it was appropriate that, as of now, Secretary Mnuchin is still planning to go over to Saudi Arabia for the investment conference. And I was wondering if you thought that that was an appropriate step for him to take.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as the President confirmed today, the Secretary met with the Crown Prince, as well as the King in Saudi Arabia. I look forward to speaking to the Secretary of State later today for an update on the investigation. We are informed it is underway. We’re going to follow the facts and make sure that the truth is known and those responsible are held accountable.
Q And do you think Secretary Mnuchin shouldn’t go?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Anybody else on the topic here today? We’re good? Thank you all for coming out.