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

Flooding

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

September 2018 Weather Summary and October Outlook

September 2018 Weather Summary and October Outlook

Rainfall

September 2018 was a very unique month.  Tropical Storm Gordon dumped significant rainfall in Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia Counties in the Florida Panhandle and Southwestern Alabama.  As bad as that was, it did not compare to severe flooding in the Carolinas from Hurricane Florence. Wilmington, North Carolina received 24″ or two feet of rain in the month of September. Yet the areas between these two storm paths were drier than normal.

September rainfall map

Closer to home, the National Weather Service map above shows clearly the path of Tropical Storm Gordon.  The areas shaded in pink, purple, and white received 10″+ for the month.  The Panhandle counties east of the Apalachicola River had much lower rainfall totals, with < 5″ in September.

January through September rainfall chart

The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) stations located in the rural areas of the Panhandle documented the variation across the region in September.  The wettest location was at Jay where 13.2″ were recorded in September.  Only 2.7″ was recorded at the station near Marianna. The Marianna, Quincy and Monticello stations recorded below historic average for September, because the tropical storm had little impact on these locations.  Through the first 3/4 of the year, the DeFuniak station has received the highest total rainfall with 54″, with the lowest total of 44″ in Quincy.  The average for all five stations through September was 50″, which is 2.4″ above average.

Temperatures

The dog days of summer were worse in September than August.  The average 6′ air temperature was 1° warmer than August.

As you can see from the chart above the morning lows did begin to cool off slightly at the end of September, down to a low of 68° on September 28.  There were seven days in September with highs reaching 94°(September 12, 14,15,16, 18, 19, & 20).  The daytime highs were clearly influenced as Hurricane Florence sucked up moisture like a vacuum.  To see the complete daily weather data from the Marianna FAWN station, use the following link:  2018 Jan-Sept Weather Summary.

October Outlook

The Climate Prediction Center (CDC) forecast for October calls for well above average temperatures to continue, along with above average rainfall.  As peanut and cotton harvest are in full swing, the warm temperatures should continue to dry out the soil.  October is the driest month of the year, normally, so above average rainfall may not be a serious issue for crop harvest, except perhaps in the Western Panhandle counties were soils are already saturated.

El Niño Watch

The CDC has increased the chances of an El Niño this winter.

ENSO-neutral conditions are present.  Equatorial sea surface temperatures are near-to-above average across most of the Pacific Ocean.  There is a 50-55% chance of El Niño onset during the Northern Hemisphere fall 2018 (October-November), increasing to 65-70% during winter 2018-19. Source:Climate Predication Center
So what doe this mean for farmers and ranchers?  It may be a good year for cool-season forages and small grains, with additional rainfall this winter.  The past two years have been very dry in the fall, but this year’s forecast is different.  It may take longer than normal to cool down this fall, but at least there is soil moisture to work with.  It could be a more challenging year for vegetable and melon producers, who may face wetter conditions than normal in the spring.
el nino rainfall in Florida
In general El Niño years are 2° cooler and 3″ wetter than normal through the late fall and winter.  But, as you can see from the chart above there is a 4″ range in the Panhandle for El Niño years.
Preparing for an El Niño Winter

Preparing for an El Niño Winter

Farmers in the Western Panhandle are in agreement — dry weather is needed to get the crops out to gins and buying points.  Currently, climatologists are predicting a 62% chance of experiencing El Niño conditions for the next 3 months.

What does that mean to a farmer in Northwest Florida? 

According to the fact-sheet  El Niño, La Niña and Climate Impacts on Agriculture: Southeastern U.S., these are potential issues:

  • Harvests of summer crops such as corn, peanuts, and cotton may be delayed because of increased rains in the fall.
  • Frequent rains may reduce tilling and yield of winter wheat.
  • Wheat yields in southern AL and GA are generally higher than average during El Niño.
  • Frequent rains at the end of August and in early September may increase Hessian fly populations on winter wheat.
  • Susceptible and moderate peanut cultivars have higher intensity of tomato spotted wilt virus.
  • Yields of winter vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet corn, and snap beans are lower.
  • Fungal and bacterial diseases, especially bacterial spot of tomato and bell peppers, present higher risks.
  • Winter pasture crops may benefit from wetter weather, but planting and harvesting operations may be affected by heavy rainfall.
  • Growers may have to reduce the dormancy compensating sprays to temperature fruits, such as peach, nectarine, blueberry, and strawberry because of increases in chill accumulation.
  • Strawberry growth is slower than normal. Risk of fungal diseases such as anthracnose, botrytis fruit rot, and angular leaf spot is higher.
  • This may very well be a good year to plant winter forage and cover crops because they are predicting enough moisture to get fields established.  To learn more about the benefits of utilizing cover crops to mitigate risk, please see this publication about high residue cover crops.

Cereal rye cover crop rolling/crimping in late March 2011 at Brock Farm in Monticello, Florida. Custom roller/crimper design and fabrication by Kirk Brock.

Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Cotton laid down in the field by Tropical Storm Gordon.

For most row crop growers in Florida, Tropical Storm Gordon had minimal impact.  However, in the westernmost part of the state, much of the cotton suffered significant damage.  Though the winds were not extremely strong, the combination of saturated soils and winds wreaked havoc on what had looked like a stellar cotton crop.

The western Panhandle had been blessed with ample rains throughout the summer.  Prior to T.S. Gordon making landfall on September 3, many farmers were excited about the prospective yields for their 2018 cotton crop.  In northern Escambia County, farmers reported rainfall ranging from 7-11 inches.  Though the area did not receive a long period of high winds,  the combination of waterlogged soils and wind caused a great deal of lodging in cotton that was nearing full maturity almost ready to be defoliated.  Canopies heavy with loaded bolls and wet leaves laid down on damp soil and have not since righted their position.  The bolls touching wet ground have rotted off the plant.  The plants are matted throughout the field.   Many farmers have shared their concerns with the difficulty of defoliating a field that has cotton laying across the row middles.

Though the winds from T.S. Gordon died down within 24 hours, the rains continued.  It has continued to rain regularly since September 3rd.  Not only is the cotton worse for wear, but peanut harvest has been steadily delayed by the rains.  Greg Phillips, manager of Birdsong Peanuts-McCullough, said “Peanut harvest in the area has been greatly slowed by the rain.”  He estimates that around 7% of the entire crop has been harvested, whereas if the weather conditions had been favorable, 15% of the year’s crop would been harvested by this time.  He does report good grades so far, but he is concerned that further delays might cause a decline in both yield and grades.

The  Agroclimate image below shows the total rainfall in inches from August 13th to September 25th.  It is evident that the western Panhandle and Lower Alabama have received ample amounts of rain, but the story that it doesn’t tell is that all of this rainfall is coming at a time of year when conditions are generally starting to dry out for harvesting.

The image below from Agroclimate provides a good comparison of rainfall totals from the past 45 days to September 25.  The map of the southeast on the left shows the historical average rainfall for this time of year  The more colorful map of the southeast on the right shows the deviation from “normal” rainfall amounts.  In the case of late summer 2018, T.S. Gordon brought in much higher than average rainfall in the areas shaded in blue and purple.

It will take some time to know the full extent of the impact from T.S. Gordon.  Crop damage appears significant, but the full effects will not be known until after the completion of the 2018 crop harvest.

August 2018 Weather Summary and September Outlook

August 2018 Weather Summary and September Outlook

Estimated rainfall for August 2018 prepared by the national Weather Service.

Rainfall

August rainfall was highly variable, but in general above average for much of the Panhandle.  Most of the region received 6″ to 10″ (red and dark red), but there were areas that received more than 10″ (hot pink or lavender).

The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) stations showed the variation in rainfall across the Panhandle.  The station at Carrabelle recorded 12.6″, while only 5.7″ was recorded at the station in Marianna. Only the DeFuniak station recorded below average rainfall in August. It was not just the total rainfall, but the frequency that impacted farms in the region.  There were only 10 days in August that the Marianna station did not record rainfall, which made field work and hay harvest very challenging.

For the year, the Mariana station had the highest eight month total of 48.6″, while the Jay station has only recorded 38″ thus far.  All six stations averaged 42.8″ from January through August.

Temperatures

Air temperatures dropped slightly from an average 2′ air temperature of 79° in July to 78° in August.  Soil temperatures dropped 2° from an average of 87° in July to 85° in August.

The high temperature of 93° was recorded on August 13, and the low was 68° on August 23.  The average for the month was 78°.  Believe it or not, the night-time lows are beginning to drop slightly, as the trend-line shows.  For a complete report on the daily temperatures and rainfall recorded at the Marianna FAWN station, use the following link:  2018 Jan-Aug Weather Summary.

September Outlook

I can only imagine how nervous row crop farmers in the region are becoming, because the rain just keeps coming.  Several farmers have mentioned to me that they still remember 2013, which was a challenging harvest year due to continuous rainfall. Unfortunately the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is expecting the above average rainfall and warm temperatures to continue in September. Certainly Tropical Storm Gordon reminded us how quickly these storms can get organized and strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico.  We may have to wait until October for dry harvest conditions.

El Niño Watch

The CPC has slightly increased the likelihood of an El Niño winter, but it is not much different than outlook reported last month.

ENSO-neutral conditions are present.  Equatorial sea surface temperatures are near-to-above average across most of the Pacific Ocean.  There is ~60% chance of El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere fall 2018 (September-November), increasing to ~70% during winter 2018-19.  Climate Prediction Center
July Weather Summary and August Outlook

July Weather Summary and August Outlook

National Weather Service rainfall estimates for July 2018.

Rainfall

July rainfall was above average in many locations across the Panhandle, but this was widely variable.  Large areas received more than 10″ (hot pink), while isolated location less than 5″ (light brown).

The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) stations showed the variation across the Panhandle.  The Carrabelle station recorded 9.9″ of rainfall in July, while only 6″ was recorded at the Marianna Station.  Only the Jay and Marianna stations were slightly below historic average for July.  For the year the variation is even greater.  Jay is -8.2″ below normal, while Marianna is 8.5″ above average.  Even with a wet July, the Carrabelle location was still the site with the lowest rainfall totals so far in 2018 at 29.2″.  The wettest locations remains at Marianna with 42.9″.

Temperature

Temperatures in July were fairly similar to June.  The high for the month was 94° on July 12 and 13.  The low temperature in July never fell below 71° on July 1,4,7 and 24.  With so much humidity in the air, it felt plenty hot, but we still have only had one day this year with a 6 foot air temperature above 95°.

While air temperatures were similar to June with and average of 79°, the soil was slightly hotter, with an average of 87°, as compared to 86° in June.  To see the complete record of daily temperatures and rainfall from the Marianna FAWN station, use the following link:  2018 Jan-July Marianna Weather Summary.

August Outlook

With harvest season just around the corner, many farmers may be getting nervous.  The rain keeps coming, and soils are getting saturated.  The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) expects the wet summer to continue, with above average chances of higher than average rainfall in August.  Temperatures are also expected to remain above average.  The CPC’s three month outlook (August-October) exppects average rainfall, so it is possible that the Panhandle may dry out some before harvest, but we all know how the tropics can wreak havoc during those months, so we just have to hope they are right.

El Niño Watch

The CPC has increased the likelihood of the onset of El Niño this fall and winter.  The following is an excerpt from the latest ENSO phase forecast.

ENSO-neutral continued during July, as indicated by near-average sea surface temperature.  The majority of models predict ENSO-neutral to continue during the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere summer 2018, with El Niño most likely thereafter.   Forecasters still favor the onset of El Niño in the coming months, with a ~60% chance of El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere fall 2018 (September-November), increasing to ~70% during winter 2018-19.

What does this mean for farmers?  It may well be the best year we have had for winter forages and grain crops since the last El Niño the winter of 2015-16.  The past two season have been so dry in the fall, that many farms had difficulty either having enough moisture for a stand, or getting adequate growth for timely grazing.  While El Niño years are good for winter forages, they are not as good for spring vegetable crops.  It is still really early to know with certainty, but this is the time to order seed for winter forages and small grains.  Some winter forage varieties are in short supply, so it is time to roll the dice and decide what to do.  The best guess we have at this point, is that there will be better moisture to work with than the previous two seasons.