Hurricane Michael Credit: NOAA
October 10, 2018 will be a date that farmers and ranchers in the Central Panhandle of Florida will never forget as long as they live. Hurricane Michael landed in Bay County with 155 mph winds (Category 5 = 157 mph), the most powerful winds since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, ripped through a mostly rural area of Florida that received immediate media attention for extensive damage to the coastal communities in Bay County. What was not made as known was the extensive damage this storm caused to agricultural operations that are a critical part of the economy of the rural counties along the I-10 corridor and into Southwest Georgia.
Typically a hurricane weakens soon after it comes ashore, but this storm had measured wind speeds of 115 mph all the way up into Donalsonville, Georgia. This area of Florida and Southwest Georgia has been spared from major hurricanes since the 1850s, so huge, 50-150 year-old trees were snapped off, twisted, or blown over onto homes, barns, fences, grain bins and other structures. So even structures that could withstand the winds were crushed by huge trees.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, Florida Forest Service, and the National Agriculture Statistics Service, and Dr. Sergio Alvarez, University of Central Florida compiled a summary of estimated damages and loses to farms and ranches in the Florida Panhandle due to Hurricane Micheal.
Timber is a major industry in this part of the state and took the biggest hit with an estimated $1.3 billion loss.
Timber destroyed on a farm in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo UF/IFAS
Cotton was virtually unharvested when the storm hit and was mostly destroyed. What had promised to be one of the best cotton crops ever, was either blown off the plants, or the whole plant was flattened and will be nearly impossible to harvest.
Jackson County cotton on the left was defoliated and ready for harvest, but was blown off by the storm. To the right a small section that had been harvested and was averaging 1900 lbs./acre. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Cotton that was still immature with closed bolls was flattend by the torrential winds in Jackson Cunty. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Cattle ranches had miles of fences damage. Many ranches utilized fence rows for pasture shade, but these trees blew over and took fences out leaving gaping holes that could not be repaired without using heavy equipment to remove the downed trees. Volunteers from the Florida Cattlemen’s Association spent three weeks in the area to help local producers get highway fences patched to keep cattle from wandering on to highways.
Florida Cattlemens Assocaiton sent volunteers who brought heavy equipment to help local ranchers patch gaping holes caused by downed trees in Jackson County. Credit: Dough Mayo, UF/IFAS
Center pivot irrigation systems, equipment barns, hay barns and grain bins that were not built to withstand category 3 hurricane winds were mangled, damaged or destroyed.
Center Pivot destroyed in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Equipment barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo
Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Creidt; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
These are just a few of the tragic images from a devastating hurricane. The following chart shares the estimates made by a team of UF/IFAS County Agents who interviewed farmers in Jackson County in October to develop damage estimates to this major agricultural county.
Source: UF/IFAS Damage Assessment Team
In the end it will take months just to get all of the debris pilled up to burn, and years to recover from the lost income, and to repair or replace damaged or destroyed fences, center pivots, barns, and homes lost in a matter of four hours. While USDA does have disaster programs to assist with hurricane damaged fences, debris removal, lost livestock, and timber replanting, the only hope for restoring some portion of the lost income needed to keep farm business going is action by Congress similar to the WHIP Program developed for areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But this previous program did not cover timber losses. It will be essential for local farmers to utilize agricultural organizations such as Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Forestry Association to work with federal representatives to get help for producers in this region that also includes timber losses. Otherwise many farm businesses in the Panhandle may never fully recover from this devastating storm.
Read the FDACS and Georgia storm damage reports:
Facing the Storm (Hurricane Michael impact on Georgia farms)
In response to the large amount of storm debris from Hurricane Michael, the Florida Forest Service and the University of Florida Gadsden County Extension Service will be offering a Certified Pile Burner Course in Quincy, Florida. Normally this course includes a $50 per person registration fee, but the fee has been waived to assist with storm recovery. For the next several months, because of the risk of wildfires and the challenge of private property access, only certified pile burners will be issued commercial permits in the primary impact region of Hurricane Michael.
Class size will be limited, so register early. This course will show you how to burn piles legally, safely, and efficiently. This training will be held from 8:30 am till 4:30 pm at the North Florida Research & Education Center, 155 Research Rd, Quincy, Florida.
There will be a test at the end of the session. You must receive a grade of 70% or higher on the exam to pass the course. After passing the course, you will need to demonstrate a proper pile burn with approval from your local Florida Forest Service (FFS) office to become certified.
Florida’s Certified Pile Burner Training Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why should I be a certified pile burner?
A: Certified pile burners are trained to burn piles legally, safely and efficiently. Most importantly, it could save a life. Also, when the weather is dry, certified pile burners will receive priority for authorization to burn by the Florida Forest Service (FFS). Also, certified pile burners are allowed to burn up to two hours longer per day and get multiple day authorizations.
Q: What is a Pile Burner Customer Number?
A: When you call the FFS for an authorization to burn, you will be assigned a personal customer number. This number references your information, so it doesn’t need to be gathered each time you call for an authorization. You must have your individual FFS customer number in order to be certified.
Q: Is there a test?
A: Yes, the test is 20 questions and open-book. You must receive a score of at least 70% to pass.
Q: What if I don’t pass?
A: Very few people fail the test but if you do, you will be provided another opportunity to take the test at a later date. If you fail the second time, you must re-register and take the training again.
Q: Why do you ask for my email on the application form?
A: Email is the fastest and most convenient method to inform registrants of their registration status. If no email address is provided, then all correspondence will be sent through the federal mail. This can take several days to relay messages, and this may not be practical if changes are made to the course schedule or for last minute registrations.
Q: Is there a cost for the training?
A: No. This is a special class in response to Hurricane Michael, the traditional $50 fee has been waived for these courses.
Q: How long does my certification last, and how long do I have to complete the certification from the time I finish the class?
A: As long as the person with the certification uses their number at least 5 times in a period of 5 years their certification will not expire under the current program. You MUST complete the certification burn within a year of taking the class.
Q: Will certified burners be notified if their certification expires?
A: Yes, notification will be sent out to them to let them know of their upcoming certification expiration date.
Q: Will I be certified at the end of the one-day training?
A: No, you will need to follow the written instructions that you will receive from the FFS to become certified. You will need to complete a simple burn plan, have it reviewed and approved locally by the FFS and also have the burn itself reviewed and approved by the FFS.
Q: Is there a minimum age to be a certified pile burner?
A: Yes, you must be at least 18 years old to take the test and be a certified pile burner.
For more information, contact:
Florida Forest Service
FCA Fence crew volunteers cleared debris to restore fences along highways in Jackson County. Photo credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS Extension
Over the past month every business in the impact zone of Hurricane Michael has felt the anguish of anticipating large expenses that no one had budgeted for. There are a wide range of disaster programs to support both small businesses and farming operations. One of the greatest challenges, however, is the immediate need for cash to get an operation going again. For farmers, the are several disaster programs that provide 75% cost share on things like debris removal, livestock fence repair, and timber planting. The challenge is that you have to pay the expenses first and then turn in the receipts for reimbursement. Whether you need to hire extra labor, contractors, rent special equipment, or make immediate purchases, you may need some cash to get started while you secure the longer-term financing needed to cover theses unexpected expenses. All of the recovery tasks seem overwhelming, but at least there are a number of agencies available to provide assistance. The hard part is making sure people are aware wide range of services that are available to help with disaster recovery. Thus the point of this article, there is a new program available for a short period of time worth getting more information about.
On October 12, Governor Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program:
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program supports small businesses impacted by Hurricane Michael. The bridge loan program, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), will provide short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses that experienced physical or economic damage during Hurricane Michael. The application period runs through December 31, 2018. (Governor Scott extended the deadline)
Governor Scott said, “The damage we have seen from Hurricane Michael is indescribable and unprecedented for the Panhandle. We are aggressively working to restore power in these communities so that our small businesses can get back on their feet. We will do everything we can to help our small businesses – that truly are the heart of the Panhandle. The small business bridge loan program will help small business owners and communities get back up and running and I encourage all affected business owners to apply today.”
DEO administers the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program in partnership with the Florida SBDC Network to provide cash flow to businesses damaged by a disaster. The short-term, interest-free loans help bridge the gap between the time damage is incurred and when a business secures other financial resources, including payment of insurance claims or longer-term Small Business Administration loans. Up to $10 million has been allocated for the program.
Key points of the Florida Emergency Bridge Loans:
For small business up to 100 employees
$25,000 per eligible small business with fewer than 2 employees
$50,000 per eligible small business with 2 to 100 employees. Loans of up to $100,000 may be made in special cases as warranted by the need of the eligible small business.
Have one year to repay loan
Only one loan per business
0% interest if repaid with in a year. 12% interest on the unpaid balance thereafter, until balance is paid in full.
Applications will be accepted through December 31, 2018. (Governor Scott extended the deadline)
7-10 day approval period
Sources for more information about this program:
Call the Florida Small Business Development Center Network – 866-737-7232
Vsit the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) near you:
Bay County – DRC #11 – Bay County Public Library 898 W 11th Street, Panama City, FL 32401
Bay County – DRC # 13 – John B. Gore Park 530 Beulah Avenue, Callaway, FL 32404
Calhoun County – DRC #10 – Sam Atkins Park NW Silas Green Street, Blountstown, FL 32424
Franklin County – DRC #2 – Carrabelle Public Library 311 St. James Ave, Carrabelle, FL 32322
Gadsden County – DRC #7 – Old Gretna Elementary School 706 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Gretna, FL 32332
Gulf County – DRC #9 – Port St. Joe Library 110 Library Drive, Port St. Joe, FL 32456
Gulf County – DRC #12 Wewahitchka Town Hall 211 Hwy 71, Wewahitchka, FL 32465
Holmes County – DRC #5 – Holmes County Agricultural Center 1169 US 90, Bonifay, FL 32425
Jackson County – DRC #3 – Jackson County Extension Office 2737 Penn Ave, Marianna, FL 32448
Jackson County – Jackson County Mobile DRC Route 6910 Hall Street, Grand Ridge, FL 32442
Leon County – DRC #4 – Collins Main Library 200 West Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301
Liberty County – DRC #8 – Veterans Memorial Park 10405 NW Theo Jacobs Way, Bristol, FL 32321
Wakulla County – DRC #1 – Community One Stop 318 Shadeville Hwy, Crawfordville, FL
Washington County – DRC #6 – Washington County Agricultural Center 1424 W Jackson Ave, Chipley, FL 32428
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and the Florida Forest Service released requirements for open burning, effective November 2, 2018, in the following counties impacted by Hurricane Michael: Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Washington.
The Florida Forest Service created two geographical zones, primary and secondary, to identify hurricane-impacted areas with specific open burning requirements. Effective immediately through January 7, 2019, burning hurricane vegetative debris in the impact area zones requires an on-site inspection and burn authorization from the Florida Forest Service. Zone parameters are as follows:
- Certified pile burning is allowed.
- Non-certified pile burning is allowed at Disaster Debris Management Sites approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or with an Air Curtain Incinerator.
- On-site inspections are required for all burn authorizations.
- Broadcast burning is not allowed.
- Certified pile burning is allowed.
- Non-certified pile burning is allowed.
- Broadcast burning is allowed.
- Fire Supervisor approval is required for all burn authorizations.
“We have thoroughly evaluated the wildfire risks in these areas hardest hit by the storm,” said Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “Our plan will effectively reintroduce open burning into these areas with firefighter and public safety as the primary focus.”
Due to the immediate need for certification, the Florida Forest Service is offering two courses:
Hurricane Michael’s destructive path through the Florida Panhandle resulted in significant damage to homes and property, including nearly 3 million acres of timberland. The volume of timber on the ground has created a serious threat, causing great concern for catastrophic wildfire danger in the short and long term. The Florida Forest Service has transported additional heavy equipment into the area and is working with state and federal agencies to assist with re-establishing fire lines.
To obtain a burn authorization in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Jackson or Washington County, contact (850) 373-1801. To obtain a burn authorization in Franklin, Gadsden or Liberty County, contact (850) 681-5951. Certified burn authorizations may also be obtained by downloading the free FLBurnTools app in Apple App Store or on Google Play.
The Florida Forest Service will continuously evaluate current requirements to determine if restrictions are appropriate. For current wildfire conditions, interactive fire maps and more information on burn authorizations, visit FloridaForestService.com.
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
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
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.
A track of mature loblolly pines in Washington County severely effected by hurricane Michael. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Hurricane Michael was particularly devastating to the timber industry in the Central Panhandle. The Florida Forest Service has released a report quantifying the extent of the damage. As we move from emergency response, towards recovery there are a variety of resources available to help landowners.
There are federal programs available to provide financial assistance with tasks like debris removal. (Follow the link for more information on the federal programs currently available.)
The Florida Forest Service and the Florida Forestry Association have both complied resources to help landowners begin to move through this challenging time. Perhaps the most sought after resource right now is contact information for loggers and consultants. This information is available through the FFS Vendor Database and the FFA Master Logger Contact List.
UF/IFAS Extension has released a new publication, Assessment and Management of Hurricane Damaged Timberland, to assist timberland owners navigate the plethora of post-storm challenges they are facing.
Hurricane Michael left the area with an incredible number of downed trees. All of these trees are now potential fuel for wildfires. In areas, estimates are as high as 100 tons of available fuel per acre. As time passes and the fuel dries the risk of devastating wildfires increases. To help prevent wildfires there is a complete burn ban in effect for Bay, Calhoun, Gadsden, Gulf, and Jackson Counties. In other counties burning is only permissible with a Burn Authorization from the Florida Forest Service. Do Not burn without an authorization – it is unsafe and irresponsible. Throughout the impacted area, even after the burn bans are lifted, burn authorizations will be issued on a very limited basis; possibly only to certified burners. In an effort to increase the number of certified burners in the impacted area the FFS is offering two Certified Pile Burner Courses. Courses will be held at the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Marianna on November 27 & 28. Contact your county forester to register for the courses.
There is a complete burn ban in place for the 5 counties shown in orange. Source: Florida Forest Service