Living and working on a farm or cattle ranch offers many obstacles and opportunities to grow, change, and develop. Many farmers and producers, however, live under constant stress and anxiety of how and when decisions need to be made and the lasting effect it will have on their operation and family. Nothing could be truer than when mother nature sends powerful storms across our areas and you must bear the results of nature’s wrath. If you’ve recently traveled across Interstate 10, in the Panhandle of Florida, for roughly 100 miles between Tallahassee and Bonifay, it’s easy to see that mother nature has changed the landscape in that area forever. Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10th and continued across the northwest section of Florida as one of the most powerful storms to ever make landfall in our country’s history. This storm affected areas known for beautiful beaches, golf resorts, and summer vacationers, but it also hit one of the more rural, agricultural sections of our state.
Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Credit; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Extension agents and volunteers help producers repair fence damaged by Hurricane Michael. Credit Nick Simmons, UF/IFAS
I’ve seen first hand the destruction Hurricane Michael has caused to the agricultural communities in the affected counties. Miles of fence lines have 100-year-old live oaks draped across them with other sections of land having only the bottom half of once dense pine trees. Areas where cattle were once grazing are now laden with branches, power lines, sheet metal and small pieces of equipment. As water tanks emptied due to the lack of electricity, animals began to desperately find places to seek shelter and water usually running down county roads and highways. Some animals were tragically killed from structures or trees falling, or they were severely injured, and were forced to be euthanized. Producers were faced with these challenges all the while trying to find help to remove the 70 ft. pecan tree that lays across their home.
But the determination and spirit of many cattle producers, Extension faculty, local communities and towns were not taken down by Hurricane Michael. In fact, within a day or two, neighbors, agents, and fellow cattlemen showed up with chainsaws, tractors, barbwire, fence posts and much more to help affected producers. Trailer loads of hay, feed, water tanks, fence materials, and human supplies started arriving once roads were safe to pass. Extension agents from all program areas pitched in to help tarp roofs, stretch wire, cut away trees from homes, barns and fences. Water was brought in to disperse for both animals and people. Local cattlemen’s groups banded together to bring much needed supplies to help repair boundary fences and patch barns for safe use. Amid all this, one could see that a producer, who had lost everything and really did not know where to start, begin to take a deep breath of relief. I looked on as fellow producers put an arm around their friend and said, “We will get through this together.”
Extension Agents and volunteers help deliver needed supplies to livestock producers after Hurricane Michael
This was a natural disaster that will be remembered for years to come. The stress level can be overwhelming at times but remember there is help available to aid you through this difficult time. There are resources available to assist your recovery efforts.
Please reach out to these groups to help you through this difficult time.
Recovery from Hurricane Michael will take months and years to replace what has been destroyed. Producers face many tough decisions ahead, but with the help of so many Florida cattle ranchers, Extension Agents, friends and neighbors, the Panhandle of Florida will rebuild.
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
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.
Paper wasps are one of several species of wasp which will inhabit the quiet recesses of barns. Disturbed, they will inflict immediate pain. Photo by Les Harrison.
By August’s languid days, farmers and farm workers in north Florida have done battle with an almost endless array of destructive bugs in fields and pastures. Thrips, aphids, mites, nematodes and many more have all marshaled against successful agricultural production.
Hopefully all have been repelled. While the focus has been on the defense of productive acreage, there are problematic insects establishing a foothold in barns, sheds and other ag-related structures. Let’s take a look at one of these insects: the wasp.
Wasps are known for their foul nature and dreadful retaliation, if provoked. Whether the provocation was innocent or malicious, as many wasps as available will strike back at the offender.
Wasps fall into one of two general categories: social or solitary.
Social wasps live in colonies much like honeybees, and may have up to several thousand members. Depending on the species (such as yellow jackets or hornets), they build nests in protected places above the ground or below the soil’s surface.
Some social wasps are omnivorous, feeding on overripe fruit and carrion. Some of these social wasps, such as yellow jackets, may scavenge for dead insects to provide for their young.
Like honeybees, social wasp colonies consist of mostly female workers. Another similarity is only the females have stingers, and know how to effectively apply them. Unlike honeybees, the wasp queens live only one year.
A majority of the wasp colony dies away in autumn, leaving only the young mated queens alive. During this period they leave the nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter.
There are also solitary wasps which live and operate alone most of their lives. They do not construct nests, instead depositing their eggs on host insects which serve as a sort of mobile nursery/café.
When the eggs hatch, the host becomes the first meal for the wasp larva. Mature wasps commonly feed on nectar and pollen.
Among these loners is a wingless wasp native to Florida. It is commonly known as the Velvet Ant or the Cow Killer. While it will deliver a painful sting, as other wasps will, there are no verifiable reports of livestock lethality.
Over-the-counter treatments can be effectively use on small nests which are usually found on ceilings and roof beams, and occasionally in idled equipment. Larger nests will require a pest control operator who has the necessary protective gear.
If the wasps are not a threat and left in place, just be sure to give them the space to work and live. Everyone will be better off for it.
For more information on this subject use the following University of Florida/IFAS and Alabama Extension publication links:
Historical photo of ranchers spraying cattle for ticks in Florida. Photos from the Smathers Archives.
The bacteria that cause Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis. Credit: James M. Newman, UF/IFAS FMEL
Most people can probably tell you that ticks carry Lyme disease. This bacterial disease can cause long-term health problems for humans if left untreated, but it is thankfully relatively rare to find in Florida (132 confirmed cases in 2016). Though Lyme disease may be the best known tick-borne disease, there are others, such as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma, that are potentially harmful to both humans and animals, including livestock.
Ticks are not insects. They are arachnids, closely related to spiders, but with the bad habit of feeding on blood. Humans are not the preferred source of blood for ticks, but most species are perfectly happy settling for human blood. Of the ticks found in our area, the brown dog tick and American dog tick cause the most trouble. That being said, you might also find other species such as the Gulf Coast tick or lone star tick, but these are less likely to be problematic.
The cattle tick may be of interest to livestock owners, as it may transmit disease to not only cattle but also horses, sheep, and goats. Introduced to the United States along with the cattle that accompanied early explorers, this tick was originally native to the Mediterranean region and the Near East. It stays on one host, feeding for 18-20 days before females drop off to lay their eggs. They may produce up to four generations every year, meaning that a small population, once established, has the potential to grow very large very quickly. This makes them dangerous, coupled with the fact that they can carry diseases such as anaplasmosis, caused by the bacteria Anaplasma marginale, and Texas cattle fever, caused by the haemoprotozoan parasites Babesia bigmina and Babesia bovis.
Texas cattle fever devastated herds in the late 1800s, spread by the cattle tick. Eradication programs in place since 1906 have limited this species of tick to a few counties in south Texas, but the danger exists that deer or other wildlife could carry these pests to other areas. Part of what helps keep this danger to a minimum are ongoing eradication and surveillance efforts, including surveillance by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). You can help these efforts, whether or not you own livestock, by turning ticks you find in for testing to FDACS. Their Division of Animal Industry can be reached at (850) 573-0299.
To help control ticks of any sort, try maintaining the landscape to deter them. Keep wildlife out with fences or deterrents, and ensure the edge of lawns, fields, and pastures are free of leaf litter and debris. Keep lawns mowed and don’t let pets out into the woods where they can pick up ticks to bring home. Use insecticides if needed; repellents may work for personal use. Livestock may be treated with pyrethroid sprays or wipe-on products. Ticks may attach to any part of an animal, but in livestock tend to prefer the tail, head, neck, chest, and belly, particularly near the legs. Heavy infestations may require an application of insecticides to the area, indoors or out, to reduce major infestations.
The lone star tick feeds on the blood of various animals including humans. This tick does not transmit Lyme disease, but can transmit various other pathogens such as ehrlichiosis, rickettsiosis, tularemia, and theileriosis. Adult lone star ticks: male (left) and female (right). Source: EDIS Lone Star Tick Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS
For more information on this subject, use the following links:
Supplemental water is necessary for good crop yields in fruit and vegetable production. Water quality is equally as important as water quantity when it comes to fruit and vegetable production. Unfortunately, water can transport harmful microorganisms from adjacent lands or other areas of the farm. The water source and how the water is applied influence the risk for crop contamination to occur.
Water is used for various purposes during production: harvesting, and handling fresh produce, irrigation, cooling, frost protection, as a carrier for fertilizers and pesticides, and for washing tools and harvest containers, hand washing, and drinking.
Washing lettuce. Photo Credit: Cornell University Extension
The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed water compliance date is not until 2022, but it will be here before you know it. Water quality is an important component of a Food Safety Plan. A good first step in ensuring compliance with FSMA water quality standards is to evaluate the water sources on the farm. For more information on compliance dates, please visit the Produce Safety Alliance’s Website.
The three common sources of water used on farms are surface water, well water, and municipal water.
Surface water includes ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. It is at the highest risk for contamination because there is limited control on what flows downstream or from adjacent land. Wild and domestic animals, manure piles, and sewage discharges are all potential sources of contamination in surface waters.
The most common water source for North Florida farms is well water. Well water used for farming is at a moderate risk of becoming contaminated, when compared to surface water (highest risk) and municipal water (lowest risk). Wells are at a higher risk of becoming contaminated when located near flood zones, septic tanks, drainage fields, and manure/compost storage areas. The risk of contamination is further heightened if the well was not constructed properly, or if the casing is cracked. Wells should be properly sited, constructed, and maintained to keep contamination risks lower.
A recently installed well pump on a North Florida watermelon farm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Well Design and Construction
- Preliminary Investigation – A preliminary investigation helps determine the design of a well. Existing wells in the area should be checked out to help determine depth and potential capacity. If records for the area aren’t available, then test holes should be drilled to determine the best location for water production.
- Casing – Casing material should be determined based on site characteristics. The casing needs to extend above the surface water level to reduce contamination risks. The casing is sealed in place with grout. A poor grouting job can also promote contamination. Casing diameter is selected based on well capacity.
- Well Screen – A commercially designed well screen should be installed to minimize hydraulic head loss. Screen diameter and material should be determined based on the preliminary investigation results. Gravel packing is recommended in some areas.
For more recommendations on well design and construction, please visit the University of Florida/IFAS publication: Design and Construction of Screened Wells for Agricultural Irrigation Systems
Please note that it is important to monitor your well water quality at least twice during each growing season. A list of FSMA approved water testing methods can be found at Cornell University’s Law School Website.