The federal government announced $800 million in aid Friday to farmers in three Southern states who were devastated by last year's hurricanes.
Nearly half that money will go to Florida, where timber farmers suffered catastrophic losses when Hurricane Michael came ashore in October 2018 and destroyed 2.8 million acres of commercially grown trees.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the funding also will help Alabama and Georgia cover hurricane losses in the timber, cattle and poultry industries.
The money announced Friday, which will be distributed as block grants to communities, is part of a $3 billion disaster relief package authorized by Congress earlier this year to help communities recovering from wildfires, flooding, tornadoes and hurricanes.
"Natural disasters dealt producers some hefty blows in the past couple of years," a statement from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue read. "While we can't make producers whole, we can give them a helping hand to get back on their feet and prepare for next year's planting and harvest."
Florida's share is expected to top $380 million, while $347 million is headed to Georgia, where the timber industry also suffered significant losses. Alabama gets $25 million.
While the announcement by federal officials referenced Hurricane Florence, the state hardest hit by that storm — North Carolina — was not among the immediate beneficiaries being announced Friday. North Carolina and federal officials were still negotiating about the terms of the aid package, U.S. Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce told The Associated Press.
The remaining money, more than $40 million, could end up helping farmers in the Tar Heel State who were hit hard by Hurricane Florence.
Unlike other farmers whose crops can be insured, timber growers are usually on their own.
"Although it won't make forest landowners whole, it will make a tremendous difference in their ability to begin recovery and move forward with cleanup and reforestation," said Alan Shelby, the executive vice president of the Florida Forestry Association.
Farmers have been waiting for relief for months, and federal officials said they hoped to finalize contracts by Thanksgiving and release money to the states soon after.
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