In the wake of Hurricane Irma, economists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) realized that its Extension colleagues needed a better system for reporting damages and losses suffered by producers – something faster, more focused and more standardized.
Today, that better system is in place.
A team with the UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department has created a comprehensive online assessment form that’s ready for use following a hurricane, flood, drought, wildfire or other large-scale disaster, said Christa Court, an assistant scientist with the department and co-developer of the form.
“After the danger has passed, UF/IFAS Extension agents will go into the field to make first-hand observations and interview producers,” Court said. “This information is critical to relief efforts – state and federal agencies rely on UF/IFAS Extension to do this work because our agents have the expertise and the contacts to collect the raw data that’s needed.”
Access to the assessment form will be made available to appropriate UF/IFAS Extension personnel following a disaster, she said. Selected field agents representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are expected to participate as well, she said.
Once the UF/IFAS Extension agents have gathered information, it will be forwarded to Court and her colleagues so that they can develop a summary of the estimated asset damages and commodity losses. These estimates will be provided to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida offices of the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), to help guide relief and recovery efforts.
Court said the new assessment form met expectations during trial runs. Initial reactions from colleagues at state agencies suggest that the form meets their needs as well.
“FSA views this tool as being a beneficial help with damage assessment,” said Justin Teuton, FSA acting state executive director for Florida.
Under USDA rules, before a crop disaster can be declared in a particular county there must be documentation showing at least a 30 percent loss of one agricultural commodity, she said.
“The disaster declaration is needed before producers can participate in some federal relief programs and receive compensation for their damages and losses,” Court said.
She explained that economists use the term “damages” when referring to physical harm that befalls crops, animals and property, whereas they use the term “losses” to indicate decreases in revenue that are attributed to the disaster or to damages it caused.
The assessment form was created using Qualtrics software and can be filled out using mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers, said Alan Hodges, a UF/IFAS Extension scientist and co-developer of the form.
Accessibility and ease of use were high priorities during the form’s development, Hodges said. In fact, the entire project was intended to facilitate faster reporting, he said.
“You want to provide solid estimates to state and federal agencies as quickly as possible – ideally, within a few hours, or a few days at most,” Hodges said. “If it takes months, that may have a negative impact on the assistance that’s provided, because when the process takes too long, peoples’ attention can get focused on other things.”
Assessment results will be available to the public only in aggregate form, Hodges said, and details from individual responses will be kept confidential. Consequently, it will be impossible for casual observers to access data from specific farms, ranches or other operations, he said.
Another notable aspect of the form is that it asks users to submit information for only one operation at a time, he said.
“Users can submit as many forms as needed, but they need to stick with one farm per form,” Hodges said.
Multiple crops can be reported on a single form, so long as they’re grown on the same site by the same operation, he said.
“Forestry is one industry sector we did not include, but we’ll cover it in the near future,” Hodges said. “We may also develop a webinar to introduce the system to UF/IFAS Extension faculty.”
Funding for development of the assessment form was provided by UF/IFAS Extension and the Food and Resource Economics Department, Hodges said.