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“I Don’t Think We’ll Be Forgotten For Long” – Florida’s Big Bend After Hurricane Idalia

Amid the recovery from the worst hurricane to hit the Nature Coast since 1950, Florida’s Big Bend industries like timber and agriculture are ready to prove their resilience.

PERRY, FLORIDA — Over a week after Hurricane Idalia made landfall, the family-run timber companies and residents of Taylor County, Florida still have no idea how bad the damage is to their land and forests.

“You never expect ground zero to be where you live,” Jessica Archer told the Orlando Sentinel. Archer’s and her family’s roots in Taylor County go back to the 1800s. “Seeing these 80-foot pine trees just snapped in half is shocking … We watched trees get pulled up out of the ground in our neighbor’s yard.”

Much of the timberland is flooded, impassable – and the Florida Department of Agriculture has not yet completed their damage assessments.

One of the properties facing potentially dire circumstances belongs to Four Rivers Land & Timber. Idalia made landfall right on their property of over one thousand acres of timberland.

“There’s significant damage, but I don’t know how widespread it is because we haven’t been able to get in the woods due to flooding,” Florida Forestry Association Executive Vice President Alan Shelby told The Florida Standard.

“I did go down there and look at it on Saturday riding through Perry,” Shelby said – but added that he could not make his way to the timber properties. According to him, flooding over an extended period of time is a grave threat to the timber and the land itself.

“If it’s flooded for a week, they’ll [the trees] be fine,” Shelby said. “But there’s not a magic number. Eventually there will be mortality if it [water] stays there. It does create sloppy, muddy situations where you wouldn't want to get in there to do a salvage harvest if there is downed timber. They do have tractors that get in there, but it tears up the land.”


The timber industry of Taylor County, the county where Idalia made landfall, is one of the staples of the community. The county is known as the “Tree Capital of the South” and  there are a large number of timber companies in and around Perry, the county seat.

Map of Florida county dependence on the forest industry in terms of employment contributions as share of total county employment. Graphic from the University of Florida IFAS Extension. 

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, Florida’s forestry industry covers more than 14.5 million acres and generates an annual economic impact of $16.5 billion, including 133,000 jobs.

A 2016 report – the most current one available on the Florida forest industry – said it brought in $12.55 billion in sales revenues. In that report, Taylor County provided $877 million of direct economic output, which was third largest in the state for the industry.


Suwannee County, further inland, saw severe agricultural damage in the wake of the storm.

Live Oak City Manager Larry Sessions estimated millions of chickens died and countless chicken houses were destroyed. Cooling fans were also knocked out due to power outages, causing the chickens to overheat.

Additionally, row crops like peanuts did not fare well in Suwannee County, as there was not enough power to get the harvested peanuts dried and sold.

“It’s awful. I’m visiting farms now trying to help assess,” De Broughton told FarmProgress. Broughton is a crop consultant and former University of Florida Extension agent based in Live Oak.

“Kat Cammack’s chief of staff is asking for data to help quantify the issue. Working hard to help them get us the support we need. Damage is very severe. Folks are at a loss. Madison, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette counties seem to be the worst in terms of agricultural damage,” Broughton lamented.

However, to the southwest in Levy County, most farmers had already harvested their peanut crop by the time the storm hit. Levy County is one of the regions in the nation where peanuts are harvested this early — in late August.


Despite the hard road of recovery ahead for the Big Bend, the community is bound together.

“One of our members in Perry, his response was about how the neighbors are helping neighbors,” Lee Ann Fisch, Director of Communications for the Florida Forestry Association, told The Florida Standard. “They’re helping everyone together and are a true community,” Fisch explained, adding that those less impacted are reaching out to storm-hit areas to lend a helping hand.

Fisch continued by noting the determination of the people who have been working this land for generations.

“You’re not going to hear us complain. They’re passionate and it’s about family legacy.” she stated

When asked if she thinks the people in Florida’s Big Bend are going to be forgotten – like much of the Panhandle was neglected after Hurricane Michael, Fisch said:

“I really don’t think the timber industry could be forgotten for long, because it impacts everyone’s daily life. The people are too used to the benefits of the products that are made from the forestry resources.”