Jackson, Calhoun among hardest hit agricultural communities following Hurricane Michael

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Press Release) - Hurricane Michael devastated coastal communities along the Florida Panhandle but the storm also caused significant agricultural crop losses well inland, as shown by a new report from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

County-level estimates from the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program (EIAP) indicate that none of the four hardest-hit counties – Jackson, Gadsden, Suwannee and Calhoun – border the coast, but collectively their producers lost about $91 million in revenues from crops, animals and animal products, said Christa Court, EIAP assistant director and an assistant scientist with the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

The information comes from a report issued Nov. 13 by the EIAP team, available online at https://fred.ifas.ufl.edu/economicimpactanalysis/DisasterImpactAnalysis

“Some of the areas with the most significant agricultural losses only had winds in the tropical-storm range, but they happened to have a lot of high-value agricultural production,” Court said. “Also, Hurricane Michael was strengthening as it made landfall, which increased the amount of damage we saw.”

Estimates for losses sustained by Florida’s timber producers were not addressed in the new UF/IFAS report, she said, but a recent analysis by the Florida Forest Service indicated that 2.809 million acres of Florida forest land were damaged, resulting in losses of $1.289 billion. The dollar figure represents timber that would normally be harvested over several years, Court said; consequently, it should not be directly compared with loss estimates for agricultural products that are grown and harvested in a single year’s time.

Altogether, 25 Panhandle counties had at least one agricultural industry significantly impacted by the storm, which came ashore in Bay County Oct. 10, Court said.

In the new UF/IFAS report, updated statewide estimates indicate that losses for crops, animals and animal products in Florida totaled $138 million, she said. The figure includes $80 million for losses in field crops, $32 million for specialty crops and $26 million for animals and animal products.

“The $138 million statewide estimate is smaller than the number we initially developed because it’s based on better information,” Court said. “As we received additional reports from affected areas, we revised our estimates accordingly. In some cases, the reports indicated there was less damage than we’d previously believed, so the loss estimates were revised downward.”

Court emphasized that these figures represent only storm-related revenue losses for the 2018-2019 growing season. The figure does not encompass other financial consequences of Hurricane Michael, including clean-up costs, repair and replacement costs for damaged property, medical and veterinary expenses, or any long-term economic effects. The figure also does not include direct losses for timber producers, commercial fishing operations or downstream agribusiness activities that rely on inputs from Florida farmers, such as cotton gins, packinghouses and peanut drying operations.

“There are also significant infrastructure losses throughout the affected area, such as damaged fences, irrigation equipment, farm buildings and machinery,” Court said. “Since these are considered damages to the stock of capital used to produce agricultural products, as opposed to disruptions to the revenue stream that farmers receive from their crops, the infrastructure damages need to be considered separately.”

Altogether, about 706,000 acres of Northwest Florida field and row crops sustained damage, including 230,000 acres of peanuts, 230,000 acres of hay, 150,000 acres of cotton, 56,000 acres of field corn, 30,000 acres of oats and 11,000 acres of soybeans. Loss estimates were not developed for Panhandle crops that were not generally in production in October.

Regarding the four hardest-hit counties:

Jackson County saw $51 million in losses, including $34 million in cotton, $8 million in peanuts and $4 million in vegetables and melons.

Nearby, Gadsden County had $15 million in losses, including $10 million in greenhouse and nursery crops, $2 million in vegetables and melons and $1 million in peanuts.

Further east, Suwannee County’s $14 million in losses included $5 million poultry and eggs, $2 million in peanuts and $1 million in vegetables and melons.

Rounding out the top 4 hardest-hit counties was Calhoun County, with $11 million in losses that encompassed $7 million in cotton, $1 million in peanuts and $1 million in greenhouse and nursery crops.

From a crop-by-crop perspective:

Cotton: Total losses estimated at $53 million, representing a 95 to 99 percent loss in the areas experiencing hurricane-force winds. Hardest-hit were Jackson ($34 million), Calhoun ($7 million) and Santa Rosa ($4 million) counties.

Peanuts: Total losses estimated at $19 million, representing a 45 percent loss in areas where hurricane-force winds struck. Largest losses occurred in Jackson ($8 million), Suwannee ($2 million), and Calhoun, Gadsden, Madison and Santa Rosa counties, each with $1 million in losses.

Vegetables and Melons: Total losses estimated at $9 million, representing a nearly total loss in areas that saw hurricane-force winds. Counties with highest losses were Jackson ($4 million), Gadsden ($2 million) and Suwannee ($1 million).

Greenhouse, Nursery and Floriculture Crops: Total losses estimated at $15 million, representing losses of 30 to 50 percent in areas experiencing hurricane-force winds. Hardest-hit were Gadsden ($10 million), Bay ($1 million) and Calhoun ($1 million) counties.

Poultry and Eggs: Total losses estimated at $11 million, representing losses of up to 50 percent in areas where hurricane-force winds struck. Largest losses occurred in Suwannee ($5 million), Columbia ($1 million) and Madison ($1 million) counties.

Members of the EIAP team used a combination of storm data, crop acreage estimates based on satellite images, crop values and field surveys to develop the estimates, aided by computer software. Field surveys were conducted by UF/IFAS Extension, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and regional offices of the USDA Farm Service Agency.

Court added that EIAP is pursuing research and outreach efforts to improve the reporting process for losses resulting from future disasters.