CLAY COUNTY – The 2020 hurricane season has arrived and brings with it more uncertainty for farmers amidst COVID-19 struggles. Hurricanes have been known to wreak havoc on Florida agriculture; Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle just two years ago in 2018, landing a $1.3 billion hit on the state’s forestry industry, as well as harsh blows to the cotton, cattle, and peanut industries according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Hurricane Irma was just a year earlier and caused lingering damage to the state’s crucial citrus industry for several years after making landfall. As a new disaster season takes off in an already burdensome year for farmers, here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you make a plan to protect your farm and prevent larger losses.
Hurricane Michael, although not the first storm to devastate Florida farmers, was an awful reminder of how destructive Florida weather can be. Small and large farms alike suffered tremendous losses and felt as though they were starting over in the aftermath of the hurricane. Forced and torn from their original crops, many farmers turned to alternative agricultural industries to quickly get back in the game and protect themselves from future devastation. Alternative industries, like hops and industrial hemp, are considered more resilient to racing winds and rain, as well as other extremes like drought and heat. Diversifying an agricultural operation has the capability to protect farmers in the case where one crop is severely impacted from a disaster.
Besides finding other crops and products to diversify your farm, all farmers should have a disaster plan for the standard operating procedures leading up to and during a hurricane, including how to maintain the facility without critical services. Now is the time to test emergency backup systems and acquire extra fuel supplies. Stock up on other non-perishable emergency supplies and put together a disaster kit. Update employee contact information and go over protocols in different types of emergencies. Identify evacuation routes and meeting places for you and your loved ones. Other precautions include checking on your farm’s insurance coverage. Take new photos of the facility, machinery, and inventory for up-to-date records. Make sure you revisit and update the emergency plan for your farm as we begin the 2020 hurricane season.
Farmers face the risk of extremes that threaten their livelihood time and time again. By taking steps toward prevention and preparedness for their businesses, they can lessen the blow of disasters and have the ability to make a stronger and more effective comeback.