Federal Programs Available to Help Farmers and Ranchers Recover from Hurricane Michael

Federal Programs Available to Help Farmers and Ranchers Recover from Hurricane Michael

There are a variety of programs from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will be available to help farmers, ranchers, and timberland owners in the counties effected by Hurricane Michael. The majority of the programs are administered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also has programs in place that can benefit landowners recovering from the hurricane. Below are brief descriptions of several of the most pertinent programs. More details on the specific programs are available by viewing the linked fact sheets. These programs will also be explained in detail at a series of producer meetings.

  • FSA Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) – LIP provides benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather or by attacks by animals reintroduced into the wild by the Federal Government. LIP payments are equal to 75 percent of the average fair market value of the livestock. LIP Fact Sheet
  • FSA Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish Program (ELAP) – ELAP provides financial assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, certain adverse weather events or loss conditions, including blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary. ELAP assistance is provided for losses not covered by other disaster assistance programs authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, such as losses not covered by the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) and the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). ELAP Fact Sheet 
Jackson County Feed Barn Damaged by Hurricaned Michael

ELAP covers losses of purchased feedsuffs from a hurricane. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

  • FSA Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) – EFRP provides payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster. Available funding for EFRP is determined annually by Congress. EFRP Fact Sheet
  • FSA Tree Assistance Program (TAP) – TAP provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters. TAP Fact Sheet
  • FSA Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) – ECP helps farmers and ranchers to repair damage to farmlands caused by natural disasters and to help put in place methods for water conservation during severe drought. The ECP does this by giving ranchers and farmers funding and assistance to repair the damaged farmland or to install methods for water conservation. ECP Fact Sheet
Farm Fence Debris Removal in Jackson County

The Emergency Conservation program provides cost-share funding to remove debris and repair fences. Credit:  Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

  • FSA Emergency Farm Loans – Emergency loans are available to help producers recover from production and physical losses due to drought, flooding, other natural disasters or quarantine. Emergency Farm Loans Fact Sheet
  • NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – Farmers, ranchers, and non-industrial private forestland owners can apply for resource assistance through EQIP. Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, and non-industrial private forestland. Recovery assistance includes, but is not limited to: immediate soil erosion protection, minimizing noxious and invasive plant proliferation, protecting water quality, restoring livestock infrastructure necessary for grazing management, emergency animal mortality management. EQIP Fact Sheet 

If you are interested in participating in any of these programs, the first step is contacting your county’s USDA Service Center and setting up an appointment. Use the Service Center Locator to find the contact information for your Service Center. NOTE: At the time this document was compiled, due to damage to the Blountstown Service Center people from Calhoun, Liberty, Franklin, and Gulf Counties were being directed to the Quincy (Gadsden County) Service Center.

Additional information about federal disaster recovery programs is available at www.farmers.gov.

Extension Agents Work to Accurately Measure Hurricane Michael Damage

Extension Agents Work to Accurately Measure Hurricane Michael Damage

Agent and farmer talk

Mark Mauldin, Washington County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, speaks with a producer about his hurricane losses

Hurricane Michael will always be recalled as a milestone in the lives of many Florida Panhandle residents. The course of people’s lives has been altered irrevocably.  Depending on the location within the storm’s footprint, the damage was minor to absolutely devastating. Any tangible asset in the path of the venial weather event was subject to traumatic physical abuse.

After the winds subsided, Extension faculty from every corner of the Northwest Extension District stepped out of the sheltering protection of their homes to assess personal damage and begin the recovery efforts for themselves, and the clients they serve.  One of the many Extension initiatives undertaken to aid recovery efforts has been the assessment of damage to agricultural crops. State and Federal agencies, the news media, insurance companies and many more are interested in the monetary losses resulting from this category four storm.

Dr. Alan Hodges at the University of Florida’s Food and Resource Economics Department is the assembly point for the data. He provided a survey instrument which was developed in conjunction with district faculty and staff. The internet-based questionnaire was printed out by many who engaged farmers and livestock producers in areas where cellular service was inoperative because of hurricane damage.

We went to check on the farmers and ranchers in the area to see what we can do to help their situation,” said Ethan Carter, Regional Crop Integrated Pest Management Agent who is based in Marianna, Florida. “All were happy to see us and willing to share their experiences,” he said.  While assisting others, Carter’s house was unlivable. It had multiple large trees on the roof, some with piercing branches reaching the floor rendering the home a danger to enter for months to come.

It was a bit challenging to navigate some of the roads, especially the dirt roads which were really rutted,” said Mark Mauldin, Washington County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent. “Miles of fences are down, cattle scattered and the hay is wet. It will take a long time for producers to recover from this hit,” he said.  Mauldin took his family to a safe location to ride out the storm, but returned to Chipley the day after the storm passed ready to serve his community. Like so many others, he was out of power for weeks, but did not have damage directly to his home.

damaged barn

Many producers in the effected area suffered severe damage to buildings, equipment and crops

Stacy Strickland, Osceola County Extension Director, led a team which worked on damage assessments in Jackson County. Jim Fletcher, Regional Specialized Water Agent from the Central Extension District, flew a drone over field and vegetable crops to collect photo images for spectral analysis assessment which is used to measure the longer term health prospects of crops.

The survey effort by Extension Agents is continuing in the effected counties. The injury to farms, cattle operations, specialty crop production and all other phase of agricultural are being collected to measure the damage and tell the story of Hurricane Michael’s wrath and the indomitable spirit of north Florida’s agriculture community.

To learn more about north Florida’s Extension Agent’s efforts to collect agricultural damage information, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Do the Math First Before Purchasing Feed to Supplement Hay

Do the Math First Before Purchasing Feed to Supplement Hay

Washington County bahiagrass hay. Despite the producer’s best efforts, it is unlikely that this hay will be able to meet the nutritional demands of a lactating brood cow. Some supplementation will be required to ensure that cattle performance is not suppressed. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin

Two general statements to begin the discussion:

  1. Florida grass hay is generally not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of a lactating brood cow.
  2. A fall/early winter calving season is a fairly standard practice in Northwest Florida.

These two statements imply that most lactating brood cows will be fed hay this winter that is incapable of meeting their nutritional demands. Granted, for experienced producers, this is not news. That said, each year cattlemen struggle with how to most efficiently supplement low quality hay to meet the nutritional demands of their cows.

Cool season, annual forages and good grazing management can go a long way to feed the cow herd during the cooler months, but for a variety of reasons, most herds in Northwest Florida utilize hay and some form of  supplemental feed to meet their nutritional demands for at least a portion of the winter. The following are some general concepts that can help you put together an efficient supplementation plan.

To efficiently reach the main goal, cows in good condition without breaking the bank, you must understand where you are starting. You need to have a good idea of what your cows actually need in terms crude protein (CP) and energy (TDN). If you have a uniform herd of cows, some quick research or a brief consultation with your County Agent should provide you with good target numbers for CP and TDN. These are not the only two nutritional factors for cows, but addressing these two, and providing a balanced, free choice mineral, will suffice in most instances.

Collecting hay samples for laboratory analysis.  The only way to know the quality of hay and put together an efficient supplementation plan is to work from a forage analysis.  Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin

Understanding what the cows need is only half of the equation for determining the previously mentioned starting point. You also need to know the nutritional content of your hay. This can be determined through a laboratory analysis of your hay. Each lot of hay is different, and ideally should be sampled and analyzed separately. Having the nutritional information on each lot/cutting of hay allows you to feed and supplement the hay more strategically. Feed the better hay to the animals with the highest nutritional demands. Not all hay feeding situations require supplementation; forage analysis is the only way to know before you start feeding.

Once you know what the cows need, and what’s in your hay, you can begin to put together a supplementation plan. First, identify the nutritional gaps.  Are you short on CP, TDN, both, or neither? This sounds very simple but year after year, I talk with cattlemen that are evaluating supplements based on CP when TDN is actually where their hay falls short.

When you know what nutrients you are looking for you can begin comparing available supplements. Supplements come in all shapes and sizes; commodity/by-product feeds, bagged/pelleted feeds, liquid feeds, pressed products (tubs), etc. The list of practical supplement options varies considerably by operation based on location, ability to store/handle bulk products, equipment and labor available for feeding, and other factors. Once you have a list of options, evaluate supplements in terms of price per unit of nutrient (CP and/or TDN), on a dry matter basis, not price per unit of product.


Example: Calculating Price per Unit of Nutrient

Product A – $150/ton @ 65% TDN; 2000lbs/ton x 65%TDN = 1,300lbs TDN/ton; $150/ton / 1,300lbs TDN/ton = $0.115/lbs. TDN

Product B – $175/ton @ 85% TDN; 2000lbs/ton x 85%TDN = 1,700lbs TDN/ton; $175/ton / 1,700lbs TDN/ton =  $0.103/lbs. TDN


In the example, Product B cost more per unit of product, but it is actually the cheaper alternative when viewed in terms of price per unit of nutrient. This kind of evaluation may not land you on the perfect supplement, but it will go a long way toward weeding out the options that are too expensive to look at further.

Consumption, or rate of intake is another huge consideration when comparing supplements. It doesn’t matter how “cheap” a product is, if the cows eat way more of it than they need, it likely will not be a good value. Conversely, if cattle can’t or won’t consume enough supplement to meet their needs, performance and the value of the supplement will be limited. Consumption is easily regulated when a product is fed to the herd daily, but then labor costs associated with feeding become a major concern. Products that are fed free choice reduce labor costs, but are much more prone to have issues relating to consumption rate. Consumption rate of free choice products should be evaluated over time. There will be an acclimation period for new products, so it will take time for consumption to normalize. Even after the acclimation period, consumption can still vary somewhat. These variations are based largely on weather and the quality and quantity of available forage.

Once you have a feel for how much product your cows are consuming, you can determine if their consumption rate needs to be altered. There are techniques that can be used to tweak the consumption rates of some free choice products. Consult with your County Agent for techniques relating to the specific product you are feeding. If you find consumption to be considerably and consistently different than desired you should re-evaluate the value of the product based on what the cattle are actually consuming. At that point it may be pertinent to consider alternative products. A product that is slightly more expensive in terms of price per unit of nutrient may be cheaper overall, if it is consumed at a lower rate.


Example: Calculating Target Consumption Rate

A moderate milking, 1,200lb cow, at peak lactation needs approximately 16.5lbs TDN/day.

She will eat about 2% of her body weight (24lbs DM) each day of 50%TDN hay.

24lbs x 50%TDN=12lbs TDN/day. 16.5lbs TDN/day – 12lbs TDN/day = 4.5lbs TDN/day

She needs an additional 4.5lbs TDN each day or 5.3lbs of Product B from the previous example.

5.3lbs/day would be the target consumption rate for Product B in this scenario.


Developing a supplementation plan is not a one time event. On the contrary, it is a continual process of evaluation and analysis. As tedious as it may seem, the process is necessary to maximize efficiency. Striving for efficiency is not easy, but in a time when cow-calf margins are tight and expected to get tighter, it is worth your time and effort to closely evaluate your current system and evaluate other options that may be more efficient.

For more information on supplementing poor quality hay or winter feeding in general, see Have a Plan for Efficient Winter Feeding, or give you County Agent a call.


Weed of the Week: Black Cherry

Weed of the Week: Black Cherry

Black Cherry Leaves Photo Credit: Dr. Brent Sellers

Black Cherry is common across the southern half of the United States. Mature trees span from 50 to 90 feet tall with an oval silhouette shape, and low branches that normally droop to the ground. This native tree is commonly used for landscaping but can also be  found in pastures and along fence lines.

The leaves of Black Cherry trees are toxic to livestock following wind damage, frost, or drought that causes the leaves to wilt.  Once wilted, the leaves contain prussic acid, a hydrogen cyanide toxin that only forms when enzymes of the wilted leaves are combined. Research has shown that  consumption of 1.2 to 4.8 pounds of wilted leaves can be lethal to a 1,200 dairy cow (Dairy Herd, Lewandowski 2017).

For help identifying weeds or developing a control plan for your operation, please contact your county extension agent. 

For more information on this topic please see the following UF/IFAS Publication: Weed Management in Pastures  


Bargain Hay is No Bargain if it is Poor Quality

Bargain Hay is No Bargain if it is Poor Quality

Bargain, poor quality hay may actually be more expensive when you factor in waste, lower intake, and nutrient deficiencies that require higher supplementation. Photo credit: Doug Mayo

Everyone likes a good bargain, but when it comes to hay, low price often equates to poorer quality. Because hay is often sold by the bale, the amount of savings from the “good bargain” can be reduced substantially if there is a negative impact on herd nutrition. So what constitutes “poor quality hay?”  It is hay that limits how much a cow will eat, has a low energy value, low protein content, and as a result requires a large amount of supplemental feed to support cow performance. Poor quality hay generally results from inadequately fertilized fields and/or harvesting more mature plants to increase yield per acre. This combination of sub-optimal forage management leads to increased plant fiber content, lower digestibility and ultimately lower nutritional value.

How increased fiber impacts hay quality:

Intake is reduced as fiber content increases. Mature or “rank” hay reduces the total amount cows willingly consume each day.   It hurts both their appetite and the amount their rumen can physically hold.  Likewise, the increased fiber content decreases the digestibility of the hay, which also contributes to the gut fill limitation imposed by poor quality hay. Cow intake requirements change throughout the production cycle, but increased intake requirements do not equate to greater intake when the quality is poor.  Just because she needs more nutrients does not mean she will eat more.

Energy limitations result from increased fiber content which decreases the digestibility of the hay. The more mature the hay the less energy that is available from each mouthful. Coupling limited energy availability and reduced intake negatively impacts cow performance. Compounding the nutritional issue is that prior to calving and during lactation cow energy requirements increase and reach their peak. Therefore, poor quality hay reduces cow performance expressed as milk production and reproduction.

Higher fiber content also limits the digestibility and availability of the protein in the hay. Hay quality compromised by low fertility, causes protein content of the forage to be reduced.  Low protein diets from poor quality hay also limits intake of forage because of the deficient nitrogen and protein supply for the rumen microbes, which are actually digesting the forage. Limitations on the protein concentration ultimately limits cow productivity.

Impacts of Poor Quality Hay on Body Condition:

So let’s consider all the characteristics that are limiting in poor quality hay. The hay that limits cow hay intake and nutrient intake lead to the cow mobilizing body tissue to meet nutrient deficiencies.  There is a limited amount of body fat and muscle that a cow can mobilize to support her production.  Mobilization of body fat and muscle over time leads to decreased cow body condition score (BCS). Decreased cow body condition score below the pivotal BCS of 5 leads to decreased cow productivity and decreased cow reproductive performance.

The figures below demonstrate the effect of different hay qualities on estimated cow dry matter intake potential, TDN/energy intake, and crude protein intake relative to what a 1200 lb, average milk potential cow requires during the critical months leading up to calving and after calving. As you can see, hays frequently produced and purchased in the Southeast are quite limiting for cow intake, energy supply, and protein supply.

Bale 1 does an adequate job of maintaining a cow, bale 2 a fair job, but bale 3 and 4 leave much to be desired. The limited intake and energy supply in the hays result in body condition score loss from 5 to 4 by the cows in as few as 25 days for Bale 4 one month before calving, to as long as 217 days after calving for Bale 1 . The conclusion here is that bad hay results in rapid cow body condition score loss at critical times in the production cycle.


The direct cost of bargain hay is only known if you have results of a forage test, know the true quality of the hay is, and decide to fix the problem by purchasing supplements to fill the nutrient deficiencies. Supplemental feeds can improve intake limitations and fill any energy and protein deficiencies. The cost to fix the hay is determined by how large the intake, energy, and protein deficiencies are that need to be fixed, and the cost of the supplements considered. The indirect cost of bargain hay results in decreased cow performance that is manifest as decreased pregnancy rate and weaning weights of calves.

Limitations on hay intake and the deficiencies in energy and protein from the hay lead to increased costs associated with hay feeding. Coupling the cost of the hay, hay waste as result of poor quality hay, and additional supplementation cost all adds up, and eat into enterprise profitability. Bargain hay ultimately costs you twice, first when you purchase the hay and next when you feed it.

To have your hay tested for quality, contact your local County Ag Extension Agent.  For more information related to this subject, use the following links:

Improving the Efficiency of Your Hay Production

Factors Affecting Forage Quality

Fertilizing and Liming Forage Crops


Weed of the Week: Sicklepod

Weed of the Week: Sicklepod

Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University – Bugwood.org

Sicklepod is commonly known as Coffeeweed and is a major issue for livestock producers across the Southeast. This semi-woody annual legume is native to the American tropics. Sicklepod is known to be toxic, affecting liver, kidney and muscle function in livestock. The stems and leaves, as well as seeds, contain toxins, whether green or dry. 

For help to identify weeds or to develop a control plan for your operation, please contact your county extension agent. 

For more information on this topic please see the following UF/IFAS Publication:

Weed Management in Pastures and Rangeland—2017