Florida Dairy Farmers Prepare for Irma’s Fury

Friday, August 13, 2004, is a day Florida dairy farmer, Joe Wright will never forget. That’s when Hurricane Charley reached his farm.

“I will remember [that day] the rest of my life,” he says. “[Hurricane] Jeanne came through three weeks later. Frances came through three weeks after Jeanne.”

For the Wrights, Charley was “by far the worst” hurricane they have experienced. Lightning hit their main well turbine so they had no water to wash the milk tank even with an adequate backup generator. The wooden buildings on their farm were gone, steel and concrete buildings had walls left standing, but many roofs were either completely or partially missing. Hurricane Charley made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of 150 mph.

As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, dairy farmers there are preparing for the worst. While it’s still too soon to know where Irma will hit, most computer models have it reaching the Sunshine State this weekend.  Irma is a storm of huge magnitude and has the potential to make landfall as one of the biggest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center. NOAA anticipates Irma to maintain wind speeds up to 175 mph. Speeds of that caliber have the potential to devastate much of Florida.

No stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms, producers in the Southeast know what steps to take to ride out the storm. Wright says the most important factors are water, fuel and a plan to keep everyone safe.

Operating Safely

“You have to have a plan to get employees home to families as they eye of the hurricane approaches, then a plan to get employees back as soon as it’s safe after hurricane force winds subside,” he says.

Keeping employees and cows safe are also the main priority for Kris Rucks of Milking R Dairy Inc.

“Our farm operates almost 24 hours a day to make sure every cow is milked, fed and tended to,” she says. “We anticipate and are preparing for hours, if not days, of being very limited on how we operate and care for everyone here at Milking R.”

Keeping the Communication Lines Open

During a disaster like a hurricane, cell phone towers are either missing or taken over by first responders, so Wright also says it’s critical to have a communication plan.

“For us that includes having multiple vehicles full of fuel so we can round up people and drive several hours for parts we cannot get local,” he says.

Keeping the Power On

Not only do buildings…

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