The storm took the cushion, and they’re still recovering

Getting back whole after the storm will take cooperative weather and time. Maybe a generation's worth of time.

Michael Davis says he sold about 12 bales of cotton last year.

Based in Jackson County, Fla., Davis is the current president of the Florida Peanut Producers Association and farms several thousand acres of cotton, along with peanuts and other crops, with his family in a couple of counties in the Florida Panhandle, a region that took a direct hit from mega storm Hurricane Michael in October of last year. What was a promising 2018 high-yielding cotton crop turned over night into just 12 bales sold due to the storm’s damage, he said.

Before the storm, Davis and other farmers in the area had a financial cushion, the fiscal risk management process much needed in the volatile world of farming, if a grower can work it out. Trade disputes and low commodity prices haven’t help add to anybody’s cushion.

“But that cushion, my personal cushion, we’d built up is gone with the storm,” said Davis on a hot, humid day Aug. 15, after the annual University of Florida Peanut Field Day outside Marianna.

As Davis and I spoke, we both looked over to the heavy equipment and men in hardhats at the Florida Foundation Seed Producers facility nearby. It handles newly released UF peanut and small grain varieties, growing out the varieties onsite to increase supply and provide ample stocks for FFSP-licensed companies to then commercially make available to growers. At least that’s what the place did before the storm. The facility’s manager hoped the rebuilding will be complete before this season’s peanuts start arriving. Time was ticking fast on that.

After the storm, the Davis family took care of immediate needs. Houses were destroyed. They began to clean up fields with heavy equipment, getting trees out and getting fields ready. In April, they halted direct clean up to focus on prepping fields for this year’s crop. There is still plenty of storm damage to address after harvesting this year.

Crop insurance helped after the storm, Davis said, paying out about 38 percent to 40 percent of what his cotton crop would have made last year without the storm’s damage. Insurance helped with the numerous center pivots destroyed, too, paying out, again, about 38 percent to 40 percent of what it costs to replace them.

Aid is coming, they say, but it hadn’t arrived as of late August. Federal assistance will be helpful and gratefully welcomed, along with the Market Facilitation Program, but getting back whole will take cooperative weather and time. A lot of time. And maybe a generation’s worth of resolve.

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