Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, spoke in front of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Nov. 16 about damage to the cattle industry following Hurricane Irma.
Handley began his comments by telling the Florida representatives just how big the Florida cattle industry is. “We (Florida Cattlemen’s Association) represent approximately 90 percent of the cow herd in the state of Florida. There are about 1.7 million beef cattle in Florida. Cows are on 6.5 million acres in Florida,” he said.
The cattle industry was impacted by Hurricane Irma, Handley said, but it is hard to determine, still, just how badly the damage is. “Our losses are a little more difficult. It’s not the immediate loss; it’s 60 days after,” Handley explained.
The industry fortunately did not suffer too much animal loss directly from the storm. Handley estimated about $100,000 worth of animal loss. However, it is the damage after the storm that has impacted the animals the most. Handley said the new ditches, the blown-out culverts and the flooded pastures have caused the animals mass amounts of stress. When a cow becomes stressed, it can lose weight, which causes the cattleman to lose money. The female cows can stop producing milk, as well as lose calves they were carrying.
According to Handley, the Department of Transportation was helpful during the time of the storm by implementing an emergency executive order, which lifted weight limits among other things. This made it easier to get cattle shipped out of the state quickly.
Handley said he would like to see a reduction on taxes as cattlemen continue to mend damages caused by the storm, as those input costs will be ongoing for the next four to five years. He reminded the committee that although the true impacts are hard to measure at the moment, they are significant. In the initial damage estimate report by the Florida Department of Agriculture, beef cattle was estimated at about $237 million in damages, while dairy was estimated at about $12 million in damages.
However, Handley has no doubt that the industry will bounce back. “We will persevere,” he concluded.