Oct 14, 2022
Florida seeks Hurricane Ian disaster assistance

As growers continue to assess damage from Hurricane Ian, the storm caused significant damage to agricultural operations on more than 4 million acres of Florida farmland. Some farm facilities experienced losses of up to 100 percent.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) announced the acreage number during an Oct. 13 appearance by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried at a Lipman Family Farms operation in Hendry County, north of Immokalee, Florida.

At the event, Fried called for the USDA to designate 17 Florida counties as disaster regions. She requested the Florida U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency formally request a Secretarial Disaster Designation for the counties. The designation would provide federal resources for devastated producers.

The counties — essentially all of  southwest Florida’s agricultural production regions plus the central district — are Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, and Seminole.

Fried’s letter was addressed to Farm Services Administration State Executive Director Deborah Tannenbaum. The letter noted that while FDACS continues working with its partners and growers on a full and complete damage assessment, preliminary data have already determined that these counties meet the USDA required 30 percent production loss threshold of at least one crop to be eligible for Secretarial Disaster Designation eligibility, according to a news release.

“As you know, a Secretarial Disaster Designation would provide much-needed federal resources for our devastated producers in these counties, many of whom have already reported nearly 100 percent crop losses,” Fried stated in the letter.

Hurricane Ian damaged fruit and vegetable fields and orchards, nurseries and livestock. Industries also sustaining substantial losses include honey bees, horticulture, aquaculture, dairy and other crops.

“This designation is critical for our impact of producers to receive the federal assistance needed to recover and would immediately trigger the availability of low-interest FSA emergency loans,” Fried said at the Lipman appearance. “Our ranchers farmers and agricultural workers have long been dealing with some of the enormous challenges of disease and citrus greening. Hurricane Ian did them no favor. I promise I’ll do everything in my power to secure all available resources for our resilient growers.”

While the storm devastated southwest Florida’s coastline, it also caused large damage in the middle of the state, said Jaime Weisinger, Lipman’s director of community relations, who stood alongside Fried and addressed grower storm damage.

“We had a complete devastation of some of our crops,” he said. “It wasn’t just us, but it was every farmer in this area that was impacted, the livestock, the row crop guys. It will have a huge impact on our food supply this fall. While some of us will be able to recover and replant, we will go out, have people fixing plastic and picking-up stakes to get the crops going again, there are a lot of farmers who relied on this crop as their sole source of income. Those are the guys we are concerned about.”

Weisinger noted the allied industry, the industries that support growers including seed producers, fertilizer suppliers and plastics salesmen, will not have customers to sell to for the next few months that are impacted by the storm.

“It’s a wide-ranging amount of impact this hurricane had on all of us,” he said. “We appreciate you coming out and seeing the impacts we had. We will do our best to pick ourselves up and keep ourselves going, but in the meantime, we hope that people understand what we’re going through.”

Fried also invited USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to visit Florida and view Ian’s damage firsthand.

-Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor

PHOTO: Jaime Weisinger, of Lipman Family Farms, talks about damage southwest Florida farmers experienced from Hurricane Ian with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried at a Lipman operation on Oct. 13.

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