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$800 Million in Disaster Aid to Farmers hit by Hurricanes

Nov 8, 2019  | Ep4512

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The federal government announced $800 million in aid Friday to farmers in three southern states that were devastated by last year's hurricanes.

Nearly half that money will go to Florida, where timber farmers suffered catastrophic losses when Hurricane Michael came ashore in October 2018 and destroyed 2.8 million acres of commercially grown trees.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the funding also will help Alabama and Georgia cover hurricane losses in the timber, cattle and poultry industries.

The money announced Friday, which will be distributed as block grants to communities, is part of a $3 billion disaster relief package authorized by Congress earlier this year to help communities recovering from wildfires, flooding, tornadoes and hurricanes.

"Natural disasters dealt producers some hefty blows in the past couple of years," a statement from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says. "While we can't make producers whole, we can give them a helping hand to get back on their feet and prepare for next year's planting and harvest."

While the announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture referenced Hurricane Florence, the state hardest hit by that storm — North Carolina — was not among the immediate beneficiaries being announced on Friday. North Carolina and federal officials were still negotiating over the terms of the aid package, U.S. Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Forcyce told The Associated Press in an interview.

Florida's share is expected to top $380 million. That's especially welcome for Florida's panhandle and its timber industry, which suffered $1.3 billion in losses. Unlike other farmers whose crops can be insured, timber growers are usually on their own.

"In the coming weeks, our priority will be moving this funding forward, so that timber producers can have checks in hand and trees in the ground," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said.

Hurricane Michael ploughed through the Florida's panhandle as a Category 5 storm, the strongest ever recorded to hit the region. It destroyed thousands of homes and battered coastal and rural communities, many still trying to recover a year later.

"Although it won't make forest landowners whole, it will make a tremendous difference in their ability to begin recovery and move forward with clean-up and reforestation," said Alan Shelby, the executive vice president of the Florida Forestry Association.

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