Hurricane Irma Update: Laurie Hurner, UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County agent – Sept. 14 & 19

Sept. 18

I want to update you on some progress and share some more information with you.

  • We are still working out of a board room at the government center and it is still working out just fine. A little dose of “Togetherness” never hurt anybody.
  • I have been communicating with many people through Facebook and now we have email and cell service. Please do not try to reach us at our office number. We are still not there.
  • Dairy update
    • A huge thank you to the Okeechobee County Extension Director Lauren Butler and Regional Specialized Dairy Agent Colleen Larson. They rallied the troops and got our three damaged dairies food and water so that their workers could be fed. Quail Creek and The Wedgworth Leadership Institute at the University of Florida delivered hot meals and other supplies on Saturday. We worked with FEMA and the folks have adopted the three Highlands County dairies and will provide food until further notice. Many of the employees homes were damaged in addition to the tremendous loss each dairy incurred. The Dairies are recovering. On Friday the Grain Train made it to Okeehobee. The following excerpt is from Ben Butler’s Facebook page: “A train whistle has never sounded sweeter! Welcome to Okeechobee #graintrain. The midnight train from Georgia arrived in Okeechobee at 4pm this afternoon. And not a minute to soon. We have been rationing feed for our cows since the Tuesday before Irma hit. There were ALOT of people that were instrumental in getting this 100 car plus train of feed to Okeechobee. CSX, FDACS, STB, USDA, FFBF, AFBF, NGFA, NMPF and SMI. Friends like, Andrew T. Walmsley, Zach Conlin, Ray Hodge and Dana Coale. To them, I say thank you.”
  • Governor Scott Visits Highlands County
    • On Saturday Governor Scott came to Highlands County with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for a briefing about the counties losses. Thank you to John Barben, Marty McKenna, Ellis Hunt, Senator Denise Grimsley & FDOC’s Shannon Shepp who all did a great job discussing the issues and the dire needs for the future of the industry. They were very adamant in reminding the Governor that without the Florida Citrus Industry many small towns could be in a lot of trouble.
  • Relief Programs
    • We have not heard from the Feds yet regarding relief programs for the industry. That does not mean they are not working on it. See below from Mike Sparks with Florida Citrus Mutual: (Please help with his request for information).

“It has been a most difficult week for the Florida citrus industry. I do hope all of your family and friends are safe.
Please know that Florida Citrus Mutual is working with our state and federal officials on a financial assistance program to support losses to our Florida citrus crop. We have been in constant communication with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as the Florida Department of Citrus, the Florida Agriculture Coalition and the regional citrus groups since the hurricane.As reported earlier, Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson as well as Congressman Dennis Ross visited citrus groves throughout the state earlier this week surveying the damage first hand. Growers from Polk and Highlands counties, the Indian River area, and Southwest Florida were able to share their first-hand knowledge with the Senators and Congressman. Rubio, Nelson and Ross each pledged their strong support to help us rebuild after this disaster. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is hosting a grove tour in our hardest hit area with Secretary Perdue early next week. The recovery of Florida citrus remains a team effort and Mutual has pledged to work closely with FDACS, the FDOC and regional citrus groups to help recover. In addition to a financial assistance program (crop loss), Mutual is pursuing various planting incentive programs at the state and federal level, which we recognize as our highest priority to get citrus trees back in the ground. A key component to the proposed legislative ask(s), is specific damage information from growers. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH how important it is to capture this date first hand. Please take a few minutes to answer the following four questions to the best of your knowledge. Reply to or return your answers to .


What county(s) and how many acres do you manage?

Estimate total fruit loss as a percentage

Estimate the acute wind damage to trees as a percentage

Estimate acres in standing water as total acres and as a percentage

  • Please forward this email to every grower you know – they may not be on our distribution list and we need as much data as possible. We hope that you can favor us with a response by Thursday September 21. However, we will incorporate subsequent responses. Thanks for your help on this and we will keep you updated as information comes in. Regards, Mike Sparks, Executive VP/CEO”
Sept. 14

“What a wild ride.The Hurner Clan is good, and I learned something new: Yes, water can come through a concrete wall if it is flying fast enough!

I want to let you know about a few things and ask for your help.

First of all, the UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County office is closed until further notice. Our office is used as a special needs shelter and those folks need to remain there until it is safe to go home. We are working out of a board room at the government center and it is working out just fine. My faculty and I have been collecting damage reports and need your help.

Please feel free to share with me your agriculture damage. Percentages, pictures, dollar figures. All of it helps us help you. UF is working with state and local government to get all of Florida agriculture the help it needs.

Please remember a few things if you have damage:

  • document, document, document
  • camera’s have phones, those pictures will work fine
  • Keep receipts
    • for pre-storm and
    • for post-storm purchases
  • Keep track of your home expenses as well, it will help you later with FEMA

There are a lot of rumors and misinformation floating around. FEMA, The Red Cross and other agencies are working to get to us. It takes time and unfortunately any “well oiled ” machine needs a little prep.

Loss estimates for Highlands County’s citrus industry are staggering. Some other counties citrus groves are flooded but we lost a tremendous amount of fruit. Plant nurseries were damaged greatly and the caladiums are all under water.

All of these losses are devastating but please please pray for our dairymen. Many dairies are still without power and every day the cow death toll rises. Their workers are working as fast as they can and most (just like us) do not have running water or power.

Please share with anyone that you feel will benefit and please let me know of anything that I can do for you!”


Posted: September 15, 2017

Category: Agriculture, Crops, Disaster Preparation, Livestock, WORK & LIFE
Tags: Highlands County, Hurricane Irma, News

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