Hurricane Disaster Relief for Farmers and Ranchers
Any one of the three major hurricanes that have hit the US in recent years (Harvey, Michael, and Florence) would've been bad enough, but the combination of the three was devastating. In the Carolinas, Florence dumped over two feet of rain in the most saturated areas. This resulted in a loss of life, productivity, and for farmers – agricultural production. The devastation of these strong storms affected many people, but one of the industries to suffer the most damage was certainly the agricultural industry.
The good news is that there are many relief assistance resources for farmers and ranchers made available at all levels: Federal, State and Local. If your farm incurred a loss due to a Hurricane or other natural disaster, we encourage you to check out the USDA’s website, Farmers.gov/Recover, FEMA’s Disaster Assistance website, reach out to your local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) state office for assistance and check out the list of resources provided at the bottom of this article. Don’t delay, because assistance is limited, there are deadlines to submit your requests, and you need to get back on the road to recovery to prepare your farm for the upcoming crop season.
Devastation of Recent Hurricanes
Hurricane Harvey in 2017
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall (and history) as one of the most powerful storms to hit the country in more than ten years. By the time it left the US, it was recorded as one of the most devastating storms on record. It also produced some of the most catastrophic flooding in history. Some places in Texas, which was the hardest-hit area, received over 50 inches of rain by the time the storm was over, according to foodtank.com. With the flooding that occurred, the price tag on crop loss exceeded $150 million in the storm's wake. Water damage was a major issue for farms, while natural grain supplies and crops were negatively impacted, too. Food warehouses also suffered damage in the storm, and shipping routes were closed as a result of the flooding. In addition to the direct water damage alone, there is also the issue raised by the residual effects of the storm. With the amount of standing water leftover, contamination worsened the loss that farmers suffered. Foodtank.com notes that Texas is the country's largest supplier of cotton and cattle. It also contains nearly a quarter of the country's wheat supplies, and it also supplies a large volume of the nation's soybeans and corn. In the past, ranchers have relocated their livestock to higher elevations. But they have only met barriers with fresh food and water as a result.
Hurricane Florence in 2018
Hurricane Florence, which hit in 2018, was a strong and deadly Category 4 storm that pummeled the Carolinas. The hurricane left a significant amount of destruction in its wake. Farmer Jimmy Burch, who owns one of the largest farms in North Carolina, estimates that 15+ inches of rain that his area received, which caused tremendous flooding, ruined over 1,000 acres of crops which would have not only produced valuable income for the year, but also loads of produce to grocery stores which ultimately end up at the dinner table. In such a short period of time, Burch laments that he lost his entire fall season's production, as reported by The Raleigh News & Observer. And the sad reality is that Farmer Burch was just one of many farmers in the area who suffered tremendous damage from the devastating hurricanes. Sweet potatoes, greens, broccoli, and beets were some of the crops that Farmer Burch – and others in the area – lost to Hurricane Florence. Soybeans and tobacco, which are other primary cash crops in the Carolinas, were also impacted by the hurricane. Some farmers have insurance for situations like this, which certainly helps financially. But for those who don't, such as Burch, the estimated damage per acre is a whopping $750. Without some form of financial compensation, farms such as Burch's are in big trouble, both for the current production year and for the years ahead when they attempt to make amends and make up for lost production.
Hurricane Michael in 2018
But even after Hurricane Florence, the southern states saw no sign of relief in 2018. Hurricane Michael quickly escalated into a Category 4 hurricane and then slammed into the panhandle of Florida, the southeastern corner of Alabama and Georgia in full force. After the hurricane blazed a path of destruction, over $200 million in damage to the agricultural industry was left in its wake. When broken down into segments, say authors at the Alabama News Center, translates to a $120 million crop loss, nearly $25 million lost in livestock, about $1.3 million lost in poultry production, and approximately $3.5 million lost in horticulture. Infrastructure and farming equipment, including barns and tractors, took a hit that amounted to about $21.5 million in damage. Farms in the southeastern part of the state were especially hard-hit. Of all the farms affected, cotton farms suffered the most significant losses. But other types of farms, including poultry, livestock, and crops, were also damaged. Farms that produced mostly fruits and vegetables also suffered from decreased output, the Alabama News Center reports. Houston County was one of the areas that suffered the most damage.
Relief Resources Available for Farmers and Ranchers
The losses for farmers have been devastating in these past three hurricanes alone. Although receiving that amount of damage is always difficult to deal with, the good news is that state, federal, and even local assistance is available to make things easier for the farmers. After Hurricane Harvey, for instance, over $2 billion was given to Harris and Houston counties alone, which were some of the hardest-hit areas. A little less than $3 billion was also given to other disaster areas to help people and businesses, including the agricultural industry, recover from the devastation.
The aid that farmers get following hurricanes comes primarily from federal and state assistance. After Hurricane Harvey, for instance, the Texastribune.org notes that a federal plan allocated about $5 billion to the state's farmers. This money compensated for the loss of sales, production, and farming equipment that many faced following the hurricane's strike. State and local economic revitalization plans pumped about another $500 million into infrastructure repayment and the re-invigoration of local businesses, including working farms.
Those who were affected by Hurricane Michael, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, have a grace period of several months to apply for federal financial assistance from FEMA. To help people get the coverage they need, FEMA representatives went door-to-door in some of the hardest hit areas, including Calhoun County, to help people quickly and effectively get the financial assistance they need to get back on their feet again. The federal assistance, which was available by calling the FEMA hotline, applying for assistance online, or signing up with a member of the FEMA assistance team, provided significant financial aid to people who were suffering from the effects of the hurricane. Some of the hardest-hit areas, such as Calhoun County, received additional assistance and more long-term assistance to ensure a full recovery.
In North Carolina, the Fayetteville Observer reports that people who were directly affected by Hurricane Florence suffered tremendous damage. Although many people (and businesses) met the criteria for getting aid, many did not, simply because they did not quite know where to go. Federal assistance was available to help homeowners and businesses recover, while state assistance was also available in select locations. In both cases, eligibility was determined based on the amount of damage accumulated, the results of the storm's impact, and the location of the home or business. The Fayetteville Observer reports that roughly 27 counties in North Carolina qualified for federal assistance following the disastrous strike of Hurricane Florence.
Farmers Need to Prepare for Disaster and Get Help, Immediately
Considering the amount of financial and physical damaged caused by each of these three storms alone, you'd be lucky to be a farmer who was not caught in their wake. But although you can't do anything about storms that have happened in the past, you can take precautionary action to prepare for hurricane devastation in the future. With the advent of climate change and fluctuating weather patterns, it's inevitable that storms are becoming more powerful and destructive over the years. Federal assistance is primarily available through FEMA, and many states also have assistance for suffering farmers as well. While the assistance provided by these entities may not completely cover your losses, it can at least help you prepare for the next growing season.
Over the course of US history, there have always been devastating hurricanes. But the past few years in particular have produced especially strong and destructive storms. While it's inevitable that some places will be hit, farmers can take preemptive measures to ensure that when disaster strikes, they will be prepared.
List of Relief Resources for Farmers Recovering from Disaster
Following is a list of resources we’ve compiled in an effort to help farmers find disaster relief assistance. There are many ways farmers can be affected by natural disasters. If you don’t find a resource on this list that helps with your situation, don’t give up hope! There are many resources available beyond the scope of this list. If you know of a resource that is not listed below, please let us know so we can add it to the list.