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Florida farmers still recovering from Hurricane Irma damage, waiting on federal funding

Posted: 1:46 PM, Sep 11, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-11 13:46:12-04

CLEWISTON, Fla. -- Farmers in Southwest Florida were hard hit when Hurricane Irma slammed the area in September 2017.  But one year later, farmers are still waiting for the government to step in and help in their recovery. 

“It’s basically a livelihood, I’ve been doing it since I could put boots on.”

Charles Obern is the vice president of C&B Farms Inc. in Clewiston. His father, also Charles Obern, is the president.

“So there’s a whole lot of sweat, work and a lot of tears too into developing and maintaining this farm. So it’s my life,” father Charles Obern said.

Plastic ripped up from the ground. Trees blown down. No electricity for three weeks afterward. Hurricane Irma impacted this family farm, and most workers left to escape the storm, leading the land and ditch work to Charles and his son.

“It just puts you in a hole every time to recover,” Obern said.

“Because of the storm it made us really realize how important they were because we were without labor for two or three weeks,” the son said.

And it’s been a long year of recovery for C&B Farms. The father and son duo plant and harvest 40 different crops on their farm. Some are doing better than others.

The cost of planting, repairs, and land improvements was $800,000. Plus they lost more than $1.5 million in sales, so they’re turning to the government for relief.

The problem? They have no idea when that money will come.

“We lost lots and lots of money. Now we have to recoup, and worked harder to recoup which is probably gonna take two or three years to overcome,” the son said. “It’s not only us, there are a lot of neighboring farms that depend on it.”

The United States Department of Agriculture approved more than $2.3 billion for agriculture after Hurricane Irma. Florida farmers can apply for this money through the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricane Indemnity Program, also known as the WHIP program.

The program just started in July, almost 10 months after Hurricane Irma.

The Oberns will receive 50 percent of the costs of damages through this fund, but would receive a full $900,000 if they are eligible.

But that’s not a guarantee.

“I’m proud of the progress, but I’m not proud of the government for not stepping up and helping us quickly,” the son said.

HelloSWFL reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in Florida. They told us for farmers who have been approved, they will start seeing money in the next week. Over 500 farmers in Florida applied for disaster assistance relief.

For now, these two farmers are doing what they can.

“The impact on the community to this day continues,” Obern said.

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