Hurricane Preparation for Your Farm

Hurricane Preparation for Your Farm

Source: National Hurricane Center

Farmers in Florida worry every fall about potential damage from a hurricane.  Most of the media attention focuses on families in coastal communities, but not as much attention is provided for farmers and ranchers. Emergency responders are also likely to target their efforts immediately after the storm comes ashore on coastal areas hardest hit by storms.  Every farm and ranch in Florida must have an emergency plan for the impact of a hurricane.  The main thing is to prepare to be self sufficient for a more than a week.  The following are ideas that may prove helpful as a checklist to prepare ahead of a major storm.

Resource People

After a major storm large areas in the path are in chaos.  It is important to have a good list of current contact information for important people.  While most of us rely on the phone numbers loaded on a smart phone to do our daily business, it is a good idea to develop a printed list, just in case your cell phone becomes damaged.  Make sure you have current phone numbers for:

  • Extended family – Everyone will want to know you are ok after the storm, and you will want to do the same.
  • Employees and their families – it is good to be able to
  • Veterinarian – not just the office number but a cell phone number as well
  • Neighbors – in rural areas neighbors helping neighbors are the first responders
  • Farm Service Agency Office Damages should be reported within 15 days after the storm.
  • Insurance provider
  • Utility Company – Report downed power lines and power outages so your farm can be added to their response list.
  • County Extension Offices– Agricultural Extension Agents serve as the ESF 17 Coordinators for each county emergency team.  It is their role to assist farm and livestock owners after the storm.  Extension Agents are also part of the State Agriculture Response Team lead by the Florida Department of Agriculture, so they are your local contact in each county for assistance for farms and livestock owners following a disaster.

Loss of Power

At the very least, farmers in rural areas can expect power outages following a hurricane. In rural areas, power may not be restored for 1-2 weeks. This can cause some real problems for farmers.

  • Order fuel to top off farm fuel tanks for tractors and equipment.  Fuel deliveries may be disrupted following the storm.
  • Fill farm and family vehicles with gas.  Local gas stations may not be open for several days after the storm passes.
  • Purchase batteries for flashlights and lanterns.  Have enough flashlights ready for each employee.
  • Stock up on feed for animals receiving supplemental feeds.  Don’t forget the cats and dog food.  Have enough hay, feed and health care supplies on hand for 1-2 weeks. Feed stores may not be open for business for a week or more after a storm.
  • Move animals to pastures with ponds so well filled water troughs are not the only source of water.
  • Dairy farms should have enough generator power so that cows can be milked each day.
  • For operations that rely on electric fencing, have a generator ready to keep the fence hot, or at least move animals to interior pastures so they have multiple fences to help keep them in.

High Winds

Coastal areas normally receive the highest winds as a hurricane comes ashore, but even 50-70 mile per hour winds can create some real problems for livestock producers. Barns and fences are very susceptible to fallen trees and limbs from even tropical storm force winds. Tornadoes are also common in rural areas as storms move through.

  • Make sure chainsaws are in good working order and stock up on mixed fuel.
  • Locate chains and come-a-long for limb and tree movement off of fences and buildings.
  • Stock up on fence repair materials:  wire, posts, and staples for repairing fences damaged by limbs and trees.
  • Move animals and valuable equipment out of barns. Most agricultural barns are not made to withstand more than 75-100 mile per hour winds with out some damage. Metal roofing material falling and flying around can be deadly. Normally open fields or pastures are much safer for both animals and equipment. Animals out in the open have a way of avoiding danger most of the time.
  • Move animals to interior pastures so there are multiple fences between animals and the highway or neighbors.
  • Identify cattle and horses so that if they do wander out of your property, you can be notified of their whereabouts. Halters or collars and luggage tags can be used for horses. If nothing else is available, spray paint your name and phone number on cattle or horses, so they can be returned to you following a storm.  Do not include Coggins number on any identification, because that would allow the animal to be sold at auction.
  • Pick up debris that might become high-wind hazards. Strap down feeders, trailers and other items that might blow around and injure animals or cause damage to facilities.

    Be prepared to remove and clean up broken limbs and uprooted trees on cowpens, fences and buildings following a storm. Photo credit Doug Mayo


Tropical storms and hurricanes can generate 3-15 inches of rain in just a few hours.

  • Move tractors, equipment, hay, or other stored items to highest ground.
  • Move animals out of low lying pastures, or at least tie the gates open so they can move to higher ground if need be.
  • Have enough hay on hand to feed for two weeks in case grass runs short from low areas being flooded.
  • Make sure drainage ditches are clean without blockage.

    Photo credit: USDA Archive

Clean Up and Damage Assessment

Notification and documentation are the keys to getting financial aid following a major storm.

  • Beware of downed power lines. Treat them as if they are charged even if they are damaged or knocked down tree limbs. If you drive up near a downed power line, stay in your vehicle, and contact emergency personnel or the utility company.
  • Contact insurance agencies as soon as possible after the storm passes for buildings that are insured.
  • Report major damage to the local Farm Service Agency within 15 days of the storm to be eligible for federal disaster aid.
  • Document damage and repair expenses. Photographs of damages and receipts for services and materials will be very important when applying for insurance claims and federal disaster aid. Any purchased feed, supplies or veterinary expenses related to storm damage should be recorded as well.

    Equipment shed in Hardee County destroyed by at tornado associated with Hurricane Charley in 2004. Photo credit: Doug Mayo

Other Resources available to aid with Farm Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

Farm Bill Seed Cotton and Hurricane Program Updates

Farm Bill Seed Cotton and Hurricane Program Updates

Cotton field with open white bolls

On September 7, 2018, courtesy of Clover Leaf and Sowega Cotton Gins, the Jackson County Extension Office hosted a two-hour meeting for cotton growers. Don Shurley Professor Emeritus of the University of Georgia and John VanSickle with the University of Florida shared pertinent information regarding risk management program decisions, and the upcoming deadlines for cotton growers. This meeting was also web broadcast via Zoom to participating Extension Offices across Florida’s Panhandle in order to increase the number of producers reached. The meeting was recorded live and the labelled presentations are available below for viewing along with their PDF versions.

The first hour consisted of Don Shurley giving an overview of the seed cotton program (specifically in terms of how it works and how prices and payments will be calculated) and then discussing the generic base conversion options.  The following was the recorded presentation explaining the Seed Cotton Program provided at this training.

Important date regarding the seed cotton program:
1. December 7, 2018 -enrollment deadline for seed cotton program and make base elections.

Seed Cotton Program Overview Handout used at the meeting
Printer friendly Seed Cotton Presentation
Seed Cotton Program Decision Aid spreadsheet mentioned in the presentation

Dr. Shurely also wrote an article on the Seed Cotton Program: Understanding Your Generic Base Conversion Options with the New Seed Cotton Program

After the farm bill update, Dr. Shurely also briefly covered the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) and what it entails.

Market Facilitation Program (MFP) Handout

During the second hour, John VanSickle discussed the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP). This program enables the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to make disaster payments to offset losses from hurricanes and wildfires during 2017. WHIP covers both the loss of the crop, tree, bush or vine as well as the loss in production.

Important dates regarding the WHIP program:
1. November 16, 2018- enrollment deadline.

WHIP Program Factsheet
Printer friendly WHIP Presentation

Water Source Recommendations for Food Safety

Water Source Recommendations for Food Safety

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.

Water Source

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 well pump

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.


Cotton Marketing News:  Old and New Crop

Cotton Marketing News: Old and New Crop

Last week (May 10,2018) USDA released its monthly crop production and supply and demand estimates.  Each year, the May report contains the first projections for the upcoming new crop year.  Here is a summary of major points for both 2017 old crop, and 2018 new crop.

Old Crop (2017) Revisions/Updates

  • The 2017 US crop was revised down to 20.92 million bales—down 340,000 bales from the previous estimate.
  • US average yield was raised from 899 to 905 lbs per acre —but acres harvested were reduced 249,000 acres.
  • Exports for the 2017 crop year were raised ½ million to 15.5 million bales.
  • World use was projected at 120.74 million bales—350,000 bales higher than the April estimate. But worth noting, this just gets us back to near the March estimate of 120.79.

New Crop Situation

  • The 2018 US crop is projected at 19.5 million bales—4½ % less than last season.
  • Among countries considered to be “Major Exporters,” production is forecast to increase only slightly.
  • China’s production is forecast the same as 2017.
  • US exports are projected at 15.5 million bales—the same as the 2017 crop year.
  • World use is projected at 125.44 million bales—4.7 million bales or 3.9% higher than this season.
  • Compared to this season, use is projected to increase in China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Indonesia.
  • Imports are projected to increase for mills in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Chinese imports are projected to increase from 5.1 million this season to 7 million next season.
  • China is expected to further reduce stocks by 7.55 mill bales.


2017 crop year export sales currently total 17.1 million bales.  Shipments total 10.98 million bales as of May 3rd.  For the past 4 weeks, shipments have averaged 454,400 bales weekly.  This compares to 487,000 bales for the previous 4 week period.

For the 2016 crop year at this date, shipments were 74% of the total for the year.  Shipments are currently 71% of the new 15.5 million bale projection.  Shipments must average approximately 361,600 bales per week to meet USDA’s projection.

The current pace of sales and shipments suggests that US exports could eventually top 16 million bales.  This would further reduce US carry-in stocks to the 2018 crop year.  This combined with continued uncertainty about plantings and crop conditions should provide support for December futures prices.

The US crop projection of 19.5 million bales is spot on, and was expected based on March Prospective Plantings of 13.47 million acres and average yields and abandonment.  The first estimate of actual acres planted will not be out until the end of June.  Actual acres planted could be closer to 14 million.

Prices over the next month will continue to be controlled largely by crop conditions, demand, and exports.  West Texas has been dry and so has the Southeast.  Rainfall in amounts anywhere from an inch to over 3 inches is expected this week over the Southeast especially.

This much needed rainfall will come just in time for many producers.  As of May 13, most states are ahead of normal in the planting progress.

As far as the upcoming 2018 crop year is concerned, the May report seems to be supportive for now.  Of course, the US crop is still to be determined.  Given all the tariff talk and threats, another year of exports at 15+ million bales is a good sign.  We can credit this to the forecast of demand growth and expanding markets like Vietnam and Bangladesh, where sales can help offset any loss of market in China.  A recent article on the tariff issue and impacts on Georgia row crops can be found here:  The Impacts of China Trade Tariff on Georgia Row Crops

If World demand/use for 2018 of 125.44 million bales is realized, this would be the highest level of use since the 2006 crop year, and a record amount.  Use would exceed production by 4.25 million bales and 2018 would be the third year out of the last four that use has exceeded production.

It has been said all along that demand is the engine that drives the cotton train.  Without demand/use, there is less need for cotton production, and the infrastructure that supports it.  Thankfully, whatever the reasons are—and there are several of them, demand is back.

Technically and fundamentally, this market currently has plenty of support.  Any price weakness that could develop should have support at several levels.

Prices have trended down and tested the water just below 80 cents, but have moved back just barely above 80.  85-cent talk is now rampant.  But, the 80-cent area has not quite proven itself solid yet.  Could prices move higher?  Yes.  If I’m a grower, I want some of that.  At the same time, if I’m less than 30 to 40% priced, I’d get to that level first at current prices rather than worrying about 85 cents.




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Is it Profitable to Add Weight and Sell Heavier Feeder Calves this Year?

Is it Profitable to Add Weight and Sell Heavier Feeder Calves this Year?

The feeder calves with the greatest value are almost always the heavier calves, but producers must calculate if it is profitable for them to own the cattle longer, and provide the resources to add the additional weight.  Photo Credit: Chris Prevatt

Last spring I wrote an article entitled “At What Weight should I sell my Feeder Calves” that bought forth many questions on the value of each additional pound of gain. This article will serve as a follow-up to revisit the value of gain, and share the calculation for producers to use to evaluate their individual situation.

The feeder calves with the greatest value are almost always the heavier calves. The question that producers must answer for themselves is “Will it be profitable to add the additional weight and sell heavier feeder calves?” They can accomplish this by calculating the value of gain of their feeder calves.

For cow-calf producers, value of gain (VOG) is the net dollar value after the price slide of light to heavy feeder calves has been calculated. Calculating value of gain assists producers in looking ahead at potential marketing opportunities and allows them to carefully evaluate their production plans. However, it ultimately helps producers determine the optimal weight to market their feeder calves.

To calculate the value of gain, the total dollar value per head in the beginning is subtracted from the total dollar value per head at the end. The net dollar value per head is then divided by the pounds of gain per head to determine the value of gain per pound.

Below is an example of how producers can calculate value of gain (VOG). The prices used for this analysis were for 425-pound and 575-pound Feeder Steer Calves (Medium and Large Frame, #1 Muscle Score) from the USDA Florida Cattle Auctions Weekly Summary for the week ending April 13th, 2018.

Producers should consider taking the time to calculate their expected value of gain to help decide the optimal weight to sell their feeder calves. It’s important for producers to know their value of gain, because to make money, the value of gain needs to be greater than the cost of gain. Once a producer has calculated their value of gain, they must evaluate whether or not they can increase their returns by adding additional weight to their feeder calves. In the example above, a producer would need to add the 150 pounds per feeder steer for less than $126/head or $0.84/pound to add profit to their operation. There are many methods to add weight to feeder calves that vary considerably. Producers must analyze their individual situation to determine if the value of the additional pounds will be greater than the cost of gain.

Additionally, please note that the price of the calf sold ($1.55/lb.) is more than the value of gain per pound ($0.84/lb.) in the example above. It’s important to understand that their feeder calf value of gain is not the same as the market price received, due to the price slide associated with marketing heavier animals. The only time that the value of gain per pound would be equal to the market price per pound is when there is no difference in price per pound between different weights of feeder calves.

Feeder calf value of gain is a sensitive variable and can change frequently as changes in fundamental supply and demand variables influence the beef cattle market. For example, value of gain can vary greatly from weight class to weight class making it very important to calculate the value of gain of all weight classes, before adding additional weight to your feeder calves. Therefore, producers should evaluate value of gain regularly as they prepare to market their feeder calves in 2018 to be more profitable.


Cotton Marketing News:  Tariff Talk

Cotton Marketing News: Tariff Talk

A tariff is a fee assessed on imports.  The tariff is a per-unit charge that has to be paid to the government by whomever brings the good across the border, and into the country.  Assuming this fee is passed on by the importer, the impact of a tariff is to increase the price of the commodity to the user and ultimately the consumer.  Alternatively, if such a tariff makes the imported good less price competitive, the impact of the tariff is to reduce the quantity demanded of the imported good.

A potential “trade war” between the US and China has been brewing for almost a year.  Only recently has this escalated and gotten increased political, industry, and media attention.

On March 1, President Trump announced non-country specific tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.  Later, by the end of March, several countries, but excluding China, had successfully argued and been granted exemption from the tariff.  But China is 11th in steel and 4th in aluminum exports to the US.

On March 22, President Trump announced tariffs on about $60 billion of Chinese imports.  China responded by announcing new tariffs on US imports including meat, fruit, nuts, and ethanol.

On Tuesday last week, the US threatened to levy tariffs on more than 1,300 Chinese products worth $50 billion.  On Wednesday April 4, China vowed tariffs targeting 106 products from the U.S. including cotton.  On Thursday, President Trump called for imposing an additional $100 billion in new tariffs.

It is important to point out that, for the most part, this is nothing more than verbal sparring thus far.  Still, this has increased tensions and uncertainty in stocks and commodities markets.

Last Wednesday (April 4th), prices (Dec futures) dropped almost 200 points on the news of China imposing tariffs of 25% on a long list of commodities including cotton.  By the end of the day, prices had recovered a good portion of the decline, and have since moved back above 78 cents.

Support at 76 cents held.  For now, the market seems to be returning to economic fundamentals and taking a wait and see attitude on the tariffs issue.  The initial drop in prices certainly sends us the signal that prices could move lower on any eventual reality of tariffs, but it’s early yet.

China is important to U.S. agriculture and to cotton.  There is little argument about that.  After 3 years of decline (2013-15) in total US exports, due to sharply lower exports to China, U.S. exports were almost 15 million bales for the 2016 crop year, and will likely do the same or more for the 2017 crop year.  The rebound the last 2 years has been due to higher sales to China, but also due to the emergence of sales to mills in Vietnam; and increased sales to mills in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.  It is also important, and worth noting, that a good share of the growth from ’15 to ’16 came about for an unusual reason—due to much higher than normal sales to mills in India.  This was due to back-to-back low India production in ’15 and ’16, and low stocks.

Thus far for the 2017 crop marketing year, 17% of sales are for Vietnam, 16% for China, 11% for Turkey, and 10% for Indonesia.  Thus far, U.S. sales to China are 49% of their projected total for the 2017 crop year compared to 44% last year.

World use/demand for cotton is growing/improving.  Much of that growth is mill business in China.  China’s textile mill industry is growing.  They are currently in a third year of government reserve sales.  Their stocks are declining, but still modest.  Their production is far less than their mill use.  Their mill industry is heavily dependent, or has been, on the U.S. as a major import supplier.  A tariff will increase the cost of US cotton to their mills.  It’s hard to believe this is the desired impact unless they have cheaper, alternative sources.  The issue of fiber quality also comes into play.  What will be the quality of their alternative sources?

This tariff talk comes at a particularly inopportune time.  The southern hemisphere crop (Brazil and Australia in particular) will be coming available for export soon.  Of course, this is always the case this time of the year, but any tariff could create opportunity for increased market share for them.

The jury is still out on (1) whether or not all the “verbal war” will actually result in tariffs, and (2) what the impact on cotton will be.

If U.S. sales of cotton into China decline as the result of a tariff, it is possible that sales to mills in other countries could increase to offset the decline in China.  If other exporting countries were to pick up the lost U.S. market share to China, then unless those countries production and available supply is above average, that would only leave the door open for the U.S. to export to the countries being displaced by increased sales to China.

Could U.S. export sales to China be hurt by a tariff?  Yes.  Could U.S. exports in total be hurt?  That’s the bigger question and the bigger unknown.  As long as the global demand for cotton remains strong and on the rebound, it is possible that U.S. exports will continue to find a home.

But this brings up a much broader issue.  China is absolutely important to the U.S. cotton grower.  Shipments to China represent our #1 use.  But, we have also benefited from growth in mill use in other countries.  Let’s hope this situation with China can be resolved to the mutual benefit of both the U.S. and China.  But longer term, let’s also work to develop and expand market opportunities in other countries, so we are not as dependent on one country.


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