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.
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)
Our recent storm was traumatic in a lot of ways, and not only for humans. Many animals found their homes destroyed by the weather, which may unfortunately make cleanup and recovery even more difficult for everybody. While cooler temperatures in the fall and winter seasons will keep a lot of creatures from being too active, it can also send those who lost their shelter looking for new places to hide. If you live in a storm affected area – and most of the Florida panhandle was, in one way or another – watch out for dangerous wildlife.
Paper wasps often build their nests overhead on the eaves of buildings or in trees. Watch out!
Insects that build nests, such as bees, yellowjackets, and wasps, may still be on the wing. When their nests are destroyed or disturbed, individuals who are displaced may be flying around, looking for food or shelter. New nests will undoubtedly be built in areas that may not have had any previously, and any source of food is bound to attract attention. Piles of debris are good places for insects such as these to seek shelter, so wear protective clothing and pay close attention while doing cleanup. A brush pile that stays in the same place for a week or more might gain some unwelcome tenants. Look for paper wasp nests on eaves or in plant material, yellowjacket burrows in the ground or in hollow trees or stumps, and hornets in trees. Remove potential sources of food such as garbage with sugary residues or tree debris with sweet sap. Don’t forget that any pets or livestock you own might be affected by insects as well, so keep a close eye on pastures and areas where pets reside for signs of new infestations of stinging insects. A simple homemade trap may help to keep wasps and yellowjackets under control (you can find more information on making traps: Do-It-Yourself Insect Pest Traps. If you find a nest and need to use insecticides to get rid of it, remember to read the label before using the product.
Some snakes are harmless, like this hognose rattlesnake. Similar looking snakes such as the pygmy rattlesnake might be dangerous to people and livestock.
Snakes are another potentially dangerous creature that may be displaced, and constant wet weather may have them residing in areas they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Anywhere that might offer some warmth in these cool months is particularly attractive to a cold-blooded creature, and damaged buildings or brush piles fit the bill perfectly. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are some of the more dangerous snakes we have around, but remember that not every species of snake is dangerous. For help in identifying snakes, consult our EDIS publications on this topic: Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas—Identifying Commonly Encountered Snakes, Recognizing Florida’s Venomous Snakes, and Native Snakes Easily Mistaken for Introduced Constrictors in Florida. Keep leaf piles, cut branches and trees, and other debris away from homes and areas where domesticated animals and pets live, if possible .
Remember that you can always contact your local Extension office for help in identifying and advice on controlling pests, whether they’re snakes or hornets, spiders or scorpions, or something even more exotic.
Evan Anderson, Walton County Agriculture Agent
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 7, 2018.
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 7, 2018
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
Following the USDA-FSA (United States Department of Agriculture-Farm Service Agency) meetings that were held across the Panhandle in response to Hurricane Michael, one word was a common factor program qualification: DOCUMENTATION!
In fact, most times it was said that producers need to “Document, Document, and Document.” But what exactly does that mean, and how exactly should it be done? And let’s face it, most of us in the agricultural industry are not the best at taking the time to write things down, especially after the storm of the century! However, in this case, it is not an option, but a necessity. In addition to pictures, work and purchase logs will be needed to fully document damage and recovery efforts.
Records should be kept for each individual USDA Farm Number. Documentation of labor and efforts will need to be recorded and broken down by farm numbers. If you do not know your farm number or need to create one, please contact your USDA-FSA office. In addition, records should be kept in detail for all work that is done by the producer and/or those that are hired out.
Keeping detailed records of all activities related to the storm is critical for the USDA-FSA programs. Producers will not only need to log the scope of work but also record the following:
- Date work done
- Who completed work (Self vs. Hire)
- Rate charged (per hour/acre/tree etc.)
- Scope of work
- Man-hours worked
- Size and type of equipment used (Chainsaws, generators, tractors, trucks, trailers, etc.)
This includes all chainsaw work, time spent in your tractors or dozers and other equipment that is used during storm clean up. Also, remember to log it as man hours. For example, if 3 people from your farm run chainsaws for 8 hours doing debris removal, that would be logged as 24 hours (3 men x 8 hours). In addition, include details about locations of work done and how/why it was required to maintain or restore normal operation of your farm. For example, tree removed from the field to allow for harvest equipment to enter a field, or cleanup of damaged feed barn to allow of additional feed to be delivered for livestock.
Expenses from the storm can help quantify the scope of damage. Detailed records and receipts should be kept of all purchases made in relation to the disaster. This will be key for disaster relief programs, as well as for tax purposes. These purchase/expenses could include:
- Fence Repair Supplies
- Feed (above normal or as a replacement of lost feed)
- Vet Supplies (Replacement of lost vaccines from power outages)
- Capital purchases
In addition to work and purchase logs, photographs are key documentation. These too should be kept by farm number. While taking photos, take close ups as well as wide angle pictures that help capture the vastness of the damage in addition to being able to be used to help verify the location of the pictures. If you are able to email pictures to yourself, after documenting a farm/location, email those pictures to yourself with the location and other important information to help keep images organized. This will also allow for pictures to be stored in more than one location as a backup.
Long story short, it is better to over-document, than to wish you had. Utilization of these logs will help keep records for each farm number and give your operation a great starting point when meeting with USDA-FSA program staff to report your storm damage. Detailed information about Disaster Assistance Programs are available online or by contacting local offices. Additional information or types of documentation can be seen from the Wisconsin FSA document: Disaster Assistance Program Loss Documentation
Copies of the Work and Purchase Logs can be downloaded for printing using the following links, or are available by mail by calling the UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County Office 850-547-1108.
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.