ATLANTA – Georgia has landed $347 million in federal disaster aid to help farmers in southern, largely rural parts of the state recover from the devastation to crops and structures caused by Hurricane Michael in late 2018.
The flush of federal block grants comes more than 16 months after the Category 5 hurricane hit Southwest Georgia on Oct. 10, 2018, battering farms and forests in the agricultural heartland of the state.
The National Weather Service reported it was the strongest hurricane to directly affect Georgia since the last decade of the 19th century.
Researchers at the University of Georgia estimated the historic storm caused more than $2 billion in damage to numerous crops and commodities including pecans, peanuts, cotton, soybeans, timber, poultry and beef.
With the new federal grants, farmers and forest landowners in 95 counties in the southern half of the state can apply for recovery funds starting next month.
The grants will cover losses in beef, dairy, fruit, vegetable, pecan, poultry and timber operations. It will also be available for “certain losses for uninsured infrastructure,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Wednesday.
Black said the federal aid influx was a long time coming. But he cautioned struggling farmers to temper expectations for restoring their operations fully back to pre-hurricane form.
“No one will approach being made whole,” Black said at a news conference Wednesday. “What I hope is that these resources will help restore a measure of confidence in the marketplace.”
Tripp Cofield, the national policy counsel for the Georgia Farm Bureau, said the aid package will particularly help prop up industries like timber, dairy and beef, which missed out on earlier rounds of recovery funding.
“I think it will absolutely help farmers. I do,” Cofield said Wednesday.
Gov. Brian Kemp said the federal aid package comes as welcome relief after the state allocated nearly $300 million for farmers following the storm to kickstart the recovery process.
“We know that this was a generational event and it will take a long time to recover,” Kemp said. “But we continue to fight for you.”
The application period for the new federal grants runs from March 18 through April 8 and will have to be done entirely online at www.farmrecovery.com.
The $347 million aid package adds to another share of federal dollars Georgia secured from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both funding sources come from a 2017 wildfire and hurricane recovery program that earmarked $3 billion for several disaster-struck states.
Georgia counties in the state’s southwestern corner have also received more than $100 million in assistance grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help rebuild damaged public infrastructure like roads, bridges and utilities.
The federal grants announced Wednesday are part of a roughly $19 billion disaster-aid package the U.S. House of Representatives passed and President Donald Trump signed last June following disputes over allocating funds to Puerto Rico for the U.S. territory’s own hurricane recovery efforts.