Home Local & State Agency seeks data about how cold affected Hernando farmers

Agency seeks data about how cold affected Hernando farmers

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Ice crystals on orange tree
Ice crystals on orange trees after the hard freeze in late January. Photo by Rocco Maglio.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is asking farmers across the state to help it determine just how recent severe cold weather affected crops here, but some Hernando County farmers maintain that the State’s online survey will accomplish little of what it aims to do.

The weekend of January 28-30, near-freezing temperatures threatened crops throughout the State of Florida. In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Hernando County and 29 counties. He also ordered that the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) activate a Business Damage Assessment Survey that farmers could complete online.

The survey is intended to help the agency determine which Florida crops were most affected by the cold snap and how state agencies could help farmers recover their losses.

“This invaluable data will help the state evaluate the extent of the damage and provide businesses with additional resources as needed,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle.

But some members of Hernando County’s agricultural community are not convinced that the assessment will be of much help.

According to Valerie Ansell, women’s leadership chair for the Florida Farm Bureau District 5, in Hernando County, primary crops determined by sales or acres include hay, haylage, grass silage, and greenchop, followed by oranges and nursery stock crops. Based strictly on sales, top crops include nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod followed by fruits, tree nuts, and berries, then poultry and eggs, then cattle and calves.

Farmers and ranchers in the county constantly prepare for cold weather events, but their losses are not always immediately apparent, Ansell said.

“The loss could come from the actual freezing temperatures like the grass dying and now more hay needs to be fed or loss from trying to preserve a crop and then not being able to harvest in a timely manner,” she said. “Having exact dollar amounts for losses in the Hernando County agriculture community will take time.”

Even so, the local agriculture community may be too busy responding to the cold to tell the DOE or the state’s Department of Agriculture what they are doing and why.

“How many farmers and ranchers will be able to take the time to answer a survey right now while they are trying to tend to their livestock and crops?” Ansell said. “Filling out an online survey is not at the top of their list, and a paper survey is burn barrel material.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Stonecipher, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) said the agency and the DEO continue to gather data from the members of the agriculture community throughout the state.

No one from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association was available for comment.

The survey is available at FloridaDisaster.biz