AMERICUS, Ga. (WRBL) — South Georgia farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael are finally about to see some relief almost a year later.
The USDA announces starting Wednesday, it will start accepting applications for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, or WHIP+ program. Qualifying farmers will be able to submit their crop losses for 2018 and 2019 disasters.
The following local counties are eligible for coverage of 2018 loses only:
- Calhoun County
- Chattahoochee County
- Clay County
- Marion County
- Quitman County
- Randolph County
- Schley County
- Stewart County
- Sumter County
- Taylor County
- Terrell County
- Webster County
Hurricane Michael destroyed more than $2.5 billion worth of Georgia crops back in October 2018.
First-time farmer Wes Gaston of Americus was one of the first growers News 3 spoke to after the storm. He estimates lost around 30 to 40 percent of his livelihood.
“You looked out there and it was nothing but sadness seeing all that cotton on the ground,” Gaston remembers of the first day looking out at his cotton fields after the storm. “There was just so much uncertainty, that after Michael I was crushed pretty good and I imagine a lot of other folks were.”
Gaston says he plans to join his fellow South Georgia farmers in applying for the new WHIP+ program. The money comes from the $3 billion allocated from the federal disaster aid package Congress finally passed in June.
“My first thought was, finally! You know?” Gaston laughs.
He says he does not believe the aid package will cover all losses, but “every little bit counts.”
“This part of the year, all of our money is tied up in the crops right now, so being able to have a little bit to kinda help get us to the finish line, because starting to harvest and all the bills that piled up over the year. So it’ll be good to have,” Gaston explains.
Agricultural expert Steve Morgan says to qualify, the assessors will look at the type of crop, how much was lost, and how much insurance each farmer had at the time of the storm.
“You want it to be fair across the board. If two people have similar losses, but one had insurance and one doesn’t, you don’t want one to get double paid or the other not get paid at all,” Morgan of the Harris County UGA Extension Office explains. “[Insurance] is factored in to kinda balance the playing field.”
The USDA announcement adds anyone looking to receive reimbursement for their lost crop’s expected value will need to provide “verifiable and reliable production records.” Farmers will also be required to purchase crop insurance at 60 percent coverage or higher for the next two years. If not, they’ll need to pay back their WHIP+ payments.
Pecan, timber, and other tree crop growers will get an added boost through the Tree Assistance Program. The extra money will help these farmers make it through the 10 years in can take to recover an orchard after devastating weather.