As of October 15, economists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have begun gathering information they need to develop formal estimates of damages and crop losses Hurricane Michael inflicted upon agricultural and natural resources industries operating in Florida’s Panhandle.

Dollar figures aren’t ready yet, but they’re on the way, said Alan Hodges, director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Assessment Program.

Currently, Hodges said, it appears that about 1 million acres of field crops and 3.6 million acres of upland forest in Florida were potentially impacted by Hurricane Michael, with the most serious impacts affecting a “core” of 200,000 acres of crops in Bay, Gulf, Franklin, Liberty, Calhoun, Washington, Jackson and Gadsden counties. Within this core area, winds were recorded in the Category 3 and 4 hurricane range, corresponding with speeds of 111 to 156 miles per hour, he said.

Panhandle areas that produce horticultural crops, such as winter vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and ornamental plants, are still being assessed, he said.

This year’s Florida cotton crop in the core area appears to be a near-total loss, because harvesting began recently and more than 90 percent of the crop remained in the field when Michael struck, Hodges said. The peanut crop within the core area is probably a 40 percent loss, with correspondingly smaller losses in less-affected areas.

Damage to Florida planted-pine acreage is believed to be significant but will take longer to assess than agronomic crops, Hodges said.

Hodges, based at the main UF campus in Gainesville, leads the effort to consolidate and analyze raw data reported by UF/IFAS Extension agents who are tasked with visiting affected operations and interviewing producers and on-site managers.

“Things are moving forward, but we want to be deliberate and careful in our work,” Hodges said. “It takes some time, because of the severity of the damage in some counties, the challenges involved in reaching hardest-hit areas, and the fact that rescue efforts are still in progress.”

Hodges said he is unable to provide dollar figures as of October 15 but expects to have them ready to share with reporters later this week or possibly next week.

Source: University of Florida (Tom Nordlie)