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A Sarasota County barn shows severe damage from a recent storm

Sarasota County ag community prepares for storm issues

Sustainable Agriculture Agent
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

Storm-related flooding blocks a rural Sarasota County road.

Storm-related flooding blocks a rural Sarasota County road. [CREDIT: Chuck Johnston]

Preparing for hurricanes and other natural disasters is a very big job in our state, and one not limited to our urban areas. It is such a big job that the state of Florida mandated the formation of a multi-agency coordination group to plan for and manage agricultural and animal disaster response.

This group, called the State Agricultural Response Team (SART), consists of 23 partners representing the government, non-profit and private sector. The wide range of partners (see a full list) covers all aspects of agriculture in Florida and includes members from:

  • Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (which acts as lead agency)
  • University of Florida
  • Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association
  • Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and many more
Members of the Sarasota Agriculture Response Group meet to discuss actions.

Members of a variety of government and private sector, including Sarasota County Extension’s Sarah Bostick (green shirt, third from right), meet for storm response training. [CREDIT: Chuck Johnston]

SART encourages county-level collaboration to coordinate rural recovery. In the spring of 2019, members from Sarasota County Cattlemen’s Association, Sarasota County Emergency Management, Sarasota County Farm Bureau, Sarasota Soil and Water Conservation District, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, and volunteers from the local network of ham radio operators came together to solidify a plan that has been steadily developing for a number of years. The group called themselves the Sarasota Agriculture Recovery Group (SARG) and hit the ground running ahead of the hurricane season.

SARG members worked together to compile an extensive list of resources that might be needed after a storm, such as large animal veterinarians from outside of the county, locations and contact information for feed and supply stores in other parts of the state, and heavy machinery in the county that can be used to demolish damaged barns and greenhouses.

Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis (left) meets with a member of the Sarasota Agriculture Response Group during a recent meeting.

Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis (left) meets with Chris Egolf, president of the Sarasota County Cattlemen’s Association and a member of the Sarasota Agriculture Response Group. [CREDIT: Chuck Johnston]

The key to any effective storm response is communication. As recent hurricanes have taught us, normal communication methods can be down for days after hurricane-force winds end. SARG’s solution: ham radios.

There is an active group of ham radio operators, many of whom are ranchers, in Sarasota County and they are willing and ready to put their radio skills to work as the backbone of an extensive communication network during and after a storm. Members of SARG not already licensed as ham radio operators are studying for their licensing exam.

SARG members are ready to coordinate a huge spectrum of volunteer recovery efforts on the ground such as assisting sheriffs to capture and safely house horses and other livestock running loose on public roads, locating fuel for a generator that powers the irrigation system for a plant nursery, removing drowned wildlife from a creek that is part of our drinking water supply, and so much more.

A Sarasota County barn shows storm-related damages.

A Sarasota County barn shows storm-related damages. [CREDIT: Chuck Johnston]

As part of my role with SARG and Extension, I am assigned to the Agriculture and Large Animal Recovery desk in Sarasota County’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC). As SARG members travel the county post-storm, they will radio damage reports and resource requests to the EOC.

This information will be used to secure federal disaster relief funding for the state and county, as well as ensure that necessary resources are sent as quickly as possible to areas most in need. By working as a team, the process of collecting damage reports and resource requests can be achieved in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. And that is something to be proud of.

SARG members know that by working together, our capacity to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters is greatly increased.