Hemp and hops are being promoted among alternatives for crops wiped out by Hurricane Michael in the eastern Panhandle.
Glen Aiken, director of the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center, said Monday the need for alternatives has grown as farmers in an eight-county area suffered most of the estimated $1.5 billion hit to the state’s agriculture industry in the October storm.
But Aiken, in addressing the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the first step is convincing growers and ranchers about what could be best for their fields, particularly those in the timber industry, which accounted for more than $1.28 billion of the losses. Timber operators face the prospect of decades before new trees mature.
“We’ve got to get something going on these properties that are generating some income,” Aiken said. “And to do it, farms are different, farm operators are different, the more risk they’re willing to take, the chances are we can generate more income off that land.”
Along with the timber damage, Aiken said tomato and cotton crops were a near total loss as they were both close to harvest. Meanwhile, cattle deaths were significant and because of damaged fencing it took weeks to round up and return surviving animals.
“These growers are in a serious bind,” Aiken said. “They’re asking for our help, and we’re trying to give it to them.”
A workshop for farmers on management strategies, particularly for those in the timber industry, has been set for Feb. 12 in Blountstown, about 50 miles north of Apalachicola.
Aiken said that hemp, which has been promoted by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, has multiple uses, including medicinal cannabidiol, as a high-quality fiber for rope and clothing and even as food.
“I know of an entrepreneur in Kentucky that processes hemp sausage,” Aiken said. “It’s hemp and pork combined. I had some. It’s not the best sausage I’ve ever ate, but it wasn’t too bad, either.”
Hops also has a number of uses, but primarily could serve the state’s craft breweries, which have increased from 66 in 2013 to 243 in 2017.
Other alternative crops include olives, some hardier citrus varieties, such as satsuma, and lupines, which produce an oil that can be converted to biodiesel and a high-protein meal.
Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10 in Mexico Beach and then caused billions of dollars of damage in heavily rural areas as it roared north into Georgia.
Source – https://www.heraldtribune.com