Hurricane season is officially underway, lasting from June 1 until Nov. 30.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that the 2023 hurricane season will be near normal in the Atlantic and produce 12 to 17 named storms, of which five to nine could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes.

Carl Sanders points out spots on a North area cotton field where winds from Hurricane Irma affected the growth of the plants in 2017.

Funderburk

South Carolina has seen the devastating impact of hurricanes over the years. As a coastal state with six counties bordering the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina is one of the most vulnerable states in the country to be impacted by hurricanes, with over 200 miles of coastline. These tropical systems also affect many inland counties, bringing heavy rain, flooding high winds and tornadoes.

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, from 1851 to 2021, 44 tropical cyclones have made landfall along the South Carolina coastline, and each year, South Carolina has an 80% chance of being impacted by a tropical system.

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The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) encourages all South Carolina farmers and producers to take precautions to prepare and protect their families and agricultural operations in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane. Below are a few steps you can take to ensure you and your family are prepared:

1. Develop an emergency plan – Ensure your household and employees know your hurricane plan, including meeting points, emergency contact lists, and alternate evacuation routes in case infrastructure is damaged.

2. Remove debris and secure large objects – Clean out culverts, ditches, and other drainage areas, especially before and during peak hurricane season to reduce water damage. Most injuries to animals, people, or structures during a hurricane are caused by flying objects. To lessen the risk, minimize the presence of equipment, supplies, and debris that may become airborne during high winds or encountered in floodwaters.

3. Secure important records and documents – Pre- and post-hurricane documentation is extremely important for insurance compensation and recovery assistance. You’ll want to have thorough records of damages and losses sustained on your farm as well as documentation of your cleanup and recovery efforts.

It is critical to document inventory of farm buildings, vehicles, equipment, and livestock before a disaster occurs. Take photos, videos, or make written lists with descriptions. Keep copies of this inventory in multiple places: computer, off-site in a safe location, and on a cloud-based server where information is transmitted and saved weekly.

4. Know your insurance options – Regularly review your insurance policies with your agent to be sure you have adequate coverage, including flood insurance, for your facilities, vehicles, farm buildings, crops and livestock. Note, there are limitations on how soon insurance coverage will take effect. Generally, insurance policies will not cover damage if the policy was not in place before a disaster.

5. Gather supplies – Have drinking water, canned food, a generator, batteries, a flashlight, and fuel available in case you lose power. For widespread outages, credit and debit cards may not work, so have cash handy.

6. Access real-time emergency information – Download the SCEMD and FEMA apps for free on the App Store and Google Play for safety tips on what to do before, during, and after disasters. Subscribe to the USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation text message and email service to receive real-time, local operational and recovery information from the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency.

FSA also reminds farmers and ranchers potentially impacted by hurricanes that the agency has programs available that provide recovery assistance. FSA offers a full suite of disaster assistance programs to help producers recover after a natural disaster strikes.

Livestock and perennial crop producers often have limited risk management options available, but there are several key disaster programs that may be available, including:

  • The Livestock Indemnity Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybee and Farm-raised Fish Program reimburses producers for a portion of the value of livestock, poultry and other animals that were killed or severely injured by a natural disaster or loss of feed and grazing acres.
  • The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) provides risk protection for crop production loss and tree loss for certain eligible crops. Producers who suffer losses and are signed up for NAP are asked to report crop damage to their local FSA office within 72 hours of discovering damage and follow up in writing within 15 days.
  • The Tree Assistance Program provides cost share assistance to rehabilitate or replant orchards and vineyards when storms kill or damage the trees, vines or bushes. NAP or Federal Crop Insurance often only covers the crop and not the plant.
  • The Emergency Conservation Program and Emergency Forest Restoration Program can assist landowners and forest stewards with financial and technical assistance to restore damaged farmland or forests.

And again, please remember it is critical that producers keep accurate records, including photographs and video, to document damage or loss. Producers should report losses to their local USDA Service Center as soon as possible and before any clean-up efforts begin, if safety is not an issue.

FSA also offers a variety of direct and guaranteed loans, including emergency loans, that are triggered by disaster declarations, as well as operating loans that can assist producers with credit needs. FSA offers loan servicing options available to borrowers who are unable to make scheduled payments on their farm loan debt to FSA because of reasons beyond their control.

On farmers.gov, the Hurricane Webpage, Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool, Disaster-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Loan Assistance Tool can help producers and landowners determine program or loan options. For assistance with a crop insurance claim, producers and landowners should contact their crop insurance agent.

As always, FSA stands ready to assist producers should disaster strike. Please contact your local USDA Service Center if you have questions or would like more information on our disaster programs.

Laurie Funderburk is the state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in South Carolina. A resident of Kershaw County, she served in the South Caroline House of Representatives from 2004 to 2020.

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