After Hurricane Michael: What Should Panhandle Crop Farmers Do?

After Hurricane Michael: What Should Panhandle Crop Farmers Do?

Jackson Co Cotton blown on the ground by Hurricane Michael

Jackson County cotton field with harvested cotton averaging 1800 pounds/acre on the right verses defoliated cotton blown to the ground and destroyed by wind from Hurricane Michael on the left. Credit: Doug Mayo UF/IFAS

Dr. Michael J. Mulvaney and Dr. David L. Wright, Cropping Systems Specialists, UF/IFAS

In response to requests for information about post-hurricane mitigation for producers in the Florida Panhandle, this statement is meant to serve as a starting point for farmers and Extension professionals seeking information about immediate steps to take after hurricane damage to farm operations.

  1. Document the damage. Timely, good documentation of damage is the first thing needed. Timely photos with timestamps (as soon as it’s safe to do so, before clean-up) of damage to fences, conservation structures, trees/windbreaks, irrigation systems, farm machinery, and equipment, along with estimates of yield loss (compared with historical yields), etc. will be critical for insurance and assistance claims. Yield loss can be documented if any harvest was done prior to the damage, and also attempting to harvest after the damage occurred. An affidavit may be necessary.
  2. Contact your crop insurance agent. Many cotton fields may be zeroed out while other fields may have enough cotton left to make harvest
  3. Contact the FSA. Your county Farm Service Agency is your first point of contact for assistance. Since available assistance and programs will vary
    by county, your county FSA will have the most up-to-date information available to you in your area. Visit them as soon as possible so that you
    know the documentation that will be required for your claims.
  4. Attend a Disaster Assistance Information Meeting. These are scheduled by the FSA for the following counties:

    • Washington County – November 6, 2018, 9-11 a.m.
      First Baptist Church Sanctuary
      1300 South Blvd, Chipley, FL 32428
    • Jackson County –  November 6, 2018, 2-4 p.m.
      Jackson County Extension Office
      2741 Penn Ave., Marianna, FL 32448
    • Calhoun County – November 7, 2018, 9-11 a.m.
      Rivertown Community Church Sanctuary
      19359 SR 71 North, Blountstown, Florida 32424
    • Gadsden County – November 7, 2018, 2-4 p.m.
      FAMU Research and Extension Center
      4259 Bainbridge Highway, Quincy, Florida 32352

Disaster assistance programs can be found here:

A simple tool to find which programs apply to you can be found here:

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.


Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.

In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.

Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs

The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.

The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices.  For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!

Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.

Contact information:

For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory.   Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)

FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.

Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals.  These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS  cost-share program.  It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.

Contact information:

Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)

The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.

Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.

Contact information:

For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.

The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.


Featured Video:  Variable Rate Pivot Irrigation

Featured Video: Variable Rate Pivot Irrigation

This week’s featured video was produced by Alabama Extension to share the results of a successful project installing a variable rate center pivot irrigation system on a farm.  They used a combination of advanced soil mapping and soil moisture sensors to develop the map needed to program the equipment and to guide irrigation scheduling.  The farmer estimates the total system helped him reduce water usage by 60%, and also reduced variation of production in the field by eliminating both the excessive and inadequate irrigation that had occurred with his standard system in the past.



If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

Friday Feature:  Mobile Drip Irrigation from Center Pivots

Friday Feature: Mobile Drip Irrigation from Center Pivots

Dragon-line converts center pivots into mobile drip irrigation.

Water is a precious resource, no mater where you live or farm, but is especially true in Kansas where their aquifer is diminishing.  There is a relatively new technology being called mobile drip irrigation that has been developed in Kansas to make center pivot irrigation even more efficient, because water is released right on the soil surface through drip tubes to minimize evaporation.  This week’s featured video was developed by Dragon-Line to showcase their innovative approach to convert center pivot irrigation into drip irrigation.  A video viewer was not available for this video, so please use the following link:

What is Dragon Line Irrigation?


If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across a humorous video or interesting story related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

The Mobile Irrigation Lab Team: Helping Panhandle Farmers Lower Costs and Conserve Water

The Mobile Irrigation Lab Team: Helping Panhandle Farmers Lower Costs and Conserve Water

The Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab Team, from left to right: Mark Miles, Rex Patterson, and Robert Patterson

The Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab

Northwest Florida’s Mobile Irrigation Lab (MIL), run by Mark Miles, Rex Patterson, and Robert Patterson, is working hard to help farmers increase crop yields and lower costs through improved irrigation efficiency. By increasing efficiency, farmers can reduce operating costs and increase yields. The MIL has been providing free irrigation evaluations in row crop systems since 2005, and has completed more than 1,000 evaluations across the Panhandle, from Escambia to Jefferson County.

Not only are these irrigation assessments good for a farmer’s bottom line, but they are a highly effective way to help conserve Florida’s water resources. The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) estimates that the MIL evaluations have resulted in a savings of more than 9.25 million gallons of water per day, totaling more than 2.5 billion gallons groundwater saved to date. The MIL is funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the NWFWMD.

The team places a water collection bucket every 20 meters in a straight line along the path of the center pivot to capture irrigated water. Once the buckets are in place, the pivot is turned on and starts moving across the field.

Why are these evaluations important and how are they done?

The MIL wants to make sure that a farmer’s irrigation system is running at maximum efficiency, and a major part of this is making sure that the center pivot distributes water evenly across the field. If not, some plants receive less water than others, and farmers have to increase the amount of water applied to make sure all plants get enough. In areas that are over-watered, fertilizers can move past the crop’s root zone into the aquifer system. These nutrients are no longer available for plants to use, and they contaminate our water resources. By fixing distribution problems, farmers reduce the amount of water used and operating costs are lowered – less fertilizer is wasted and pumping costs (electricity or fuel costs) are reduced.

When the pivot has moved past the buckets, Rex Patterson measures the content of each one while Robert Patterson records the data. This will let the team know how evenly the pivot system is distributing water in the field.

During an MIL evaluation, the team will go through the entire irrigation system to evaluate how effectively it is running. This includes testing the center pivot’s distribution uniformity (how evenly water is applied to plants in the field), the application rate, pivot speed, water pressure, water flow rate and checking for leaks. The MIL analyzes this information and prepares a confidential report for the farmer. Recommendations to improve efficiency can include replacing sprinklers, fixing leaks and end gun adjustments, among others. Farmers can have an evaluation done every three years.

Mark Miles (left) places the flow meter on the center pivot’s pipe stand and Rex Patterson (right) waits for the system to pressurize before checking the water’s flow rate on the meter’s console.

How do you schedule an irrigation evaluation for your farm?

To schedule an appointment with the Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab, call: (850) 482-0388; Fax: (850) 463-8618. Their offices are located on 4155 Hollis Drive, Marianna, FL 32448.

If your farm is outside the Panhandle, us the following FDACS website to contact the MIL that serves your area:   MILs in Florida.  There are currently 14 MILs providing services in 62 counties across the state.

Cost-share funds for irrigation management

FDACS, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the water management districts offer cost-share funds for irrigation management, which includes irrigation system enhancements and conversions, end gun control and pump bowl upgrades among others. Contact your local FDACS field staff, NRCS office and water management district for more information on available cost-shares and funding deadlines. This information can be found on the following websites:


Moisture Monitoring, Cover Crops, and Best Management Practices for Crop Farmers

Moisture Monitoring, Cover Crops, and Best Management Practices for Crop Farmers

On August 10th, UF/IFAS Santa Rosa and Escambia County Extension hosted a field day covering moisture monitoring, cover crops, and best management practices at Mickey Diamond’s Farm.  Through a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Best Management Practice (BMP) mini-grant, UF/IFAS Extension, FDACS, and NRCS have been able to examine how cover crops are working to improve soil moisture holding capacity by doing some work one of Mickey’s fields.

This past winter, Mickey established a rye cover crop in the field, but agreed to do a very early burndown on a portion of his field and left the majority of the field with rye actively growing.  He terminated the crop by using a glyphosate application and then using a crimper roller to form a mat of rye on the soil surface.

Crimper rollers are good options to help with the termination process of a winter small grain cover crop.

The field was stripp-tilled in late Spring, and planted in cotton.  After the cotton germinated and put on true leaves, BMP Logic ( a private company) came and installed soil moisture sensors on each plot (cover crop and non-cover crop).  These probes have telemetry capabilities, so the data were sent directly to managers of the BMP Logic site where they were analyzed on a regular basis.

The rains held off for a few weeks early on in the season, so there was some difference noticed in the amount of moisture held in the upper horizons of the soil profile, where there was a cover crop, versus no cover.  See the charts below.

Other than soil moisture retention, why would a grower want to spend the extra time and cost to establish a cover crop?  When that question was asked to the group attending the field day, some interesting answers came up.  Many want to hold the moisture and increase infiltration through the root zone, but others want to supply some nitrogen by using legumes.  Others were looking to scavenge nutrients from the previous crop.  Others were using winter cover crops to graze livestock and needed the winter forage. A number identified reduction of run off and improving water quality as benefits.  A reduction of weed populations and/or better management of weeds throughout the growing season, and reducing the cost of herbicides were other reasons to plant cover crops.  Still, farmers said that managing any crop takes time and effort. Challenges for crop establishment included getting the actual seed desired, planting in a timely fashion, and difficulty in terminating the crop and planting into high residue. Tim Tucker, a Monroe county (Ala) grower stated,  “It doesn’t matter if you get the cover crop in by October 15; get it in when you can.  The benefits are worth it.”

The table below gives some good information on various cover crops that can be grown in the southeast and what benefits each could provide.


John Baggett, FDACS BMP coordinator for Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa Counties provided information about some of the more popular cover crops for this area.  Quick growing cereal rye offers the greatest production of residue and helps to suppress weeds, reduces soil erosion, increases water retention, and aids in organic matter accumulation.  The extensive root system works to scavenge the nutrients remaining from the previous crop.  The average price per bag will be around $13.50; the recommended seeding rate is 60-120 lbs/acre.  If you plant 90 lbs/acre, the cost will be about $24/acre. Stephen Godwin, Santa Rosa County farmer, cautions about using high rates of rye when mixing with another small grain or legume.  Because of the strong growth potential of this crop, he plants 20 lbs or less if he’s going to mix it with another crop.

Another very popular option is winter wheat, an easy to grow and cost effective cover crop.  It works well when planted in a blend with crimson clover.  John found the average price to be $11.75 per bag, and at a seeding rate of 90 lb/acre, the average cost would be $21 per acre.

If you are looking to add a legume, crimson clover is always a popular choice.  This crop can produce a high level of residue as well as fixing nitrogen.  This crop is especially good for attracting beneficial insects, and bee keepers in particular would be happy to have a field of crimson clover nearby.  Seeding rate for this crop is 15-18 lbs/acre if drilled. Clover seed is more expensive at around $56 per bag, but you use less seed in a blend.

Always pick a recommended variety; varieties that do well in north Florida can be found in this publication:  Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida.  There are many exceptional sources for learning more about cover crops and using them on farm.  Please review USDA’s publication, Managing Cover Crops Profitably for a much more detailed look at those three, plus many other cover crops. Finally, for specifics on UF/IFAS recommendations, Cover Crops is a publication with good information.  If you have any questions about signing up for the BMP program, your local county extension agent can help you locate your coordinator, or you can scroll to the bottom of this FDACS BMP site to locate your coordinator.