Bridge Loan Helps Dairy Farm Rebuild, Recover from Hurricane Michael

Established in 1994, Cindale Farms is a small dairy farm located in Marianna. The farm is home to 500 cows, 300 of which are milked twice daily.

Brad and Meghan Austin, who operate the business, are second-generation dairy farmers. Cindale Farms was founded by Meghan’s parents, Dale and Cindy Eade, who started the business after building up a successful farm that they rented in Marianna. The Eades now manage Southern Craft Creamery, the family’s ice cream shop in downtown Marianna.

“We are a unique farm that produces more than fluid milk,” said Meghan Austin. “We also have a high-end, artisan ice cream creamery and scoop shop that features milk produced from our farm.”

In October, the farm suffered physical and economic injury from Hurricane Michael. The storm could not have come at a more inopportune time—October is the farm’s busiest time of year. Calves are born in October/November and the Austin’s were calving six to eight calves a day when the storm hit.

Seeking help recouping their losses, the Austins reached out to the Florida SBDC at the University of West Florida (UWF) for help securing a Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan.

When asked about their experience and the helpfulness of the bridge loan, they recalled:

What type of damage occurred?

It took two days for us to cut through the fallen trees to leave our property. We were without power for 21 days. We ran generators and had friends bring us 800 gallons of diesel. Fortunately, our two main dairy barns were mostly spared, but instead faced electrical damage once power was available again. We suffered severe property damage, including 13 miles of fencing damage and fallen trees. Miraculously, no calves were harmed by the numerous large trees that fell throughout the calf nursery area. We did, unfortunately, lose four adult cows.

How did the Emergency Bridge Loan help?

The bridge loan was very beneficial. Our funding sources have been slow to come in or have not come in at all. Our fencing and the tree damage was not insurable, so the bridge loan helped us pay for repairs and helped us overcome our losses. Cows get stressed during storms too, so we saw a drop in milk production following the storm, which hurt our bottom line.

How helpful was the Florida SBDC at UWF?

The Florida SBDC was wonderful to work with. The loan process was very straightforward, which we appreciated. We had a great conversation with the Florida SBDC and the time that we were required to work on the loan was minimal.

Meghan and Brad Austin share with Michael Myhre, CEO of the Florida SBDC Network, how the storm impacted their family-owned dairy farm in Marianna, Fla.

Progress Update: One Year Later

Despite significant progress, recovery has been slow. According to the Austins, the farm has only achieved 60 percent recovery.

What are the challenges that you still face?

We immediately signed up for the only long term disaster funding available to farmers, which is administered through USDA FSA (farmers can not apply for SBA assistance like all other small businesses can). Due to continued issues with program funding and implementation, the only disaster funds our farm has received to date has been for the loss of four cattle during the disaster. We are still awaiting approval for cost-share assistance for all debris removal and fencing expenses that were incurred during the storm.

What has been your biggest learning lesson from the storm?

Our biggest lesson learned post-storm would be knowing who to contact for immediate financial assistance. Not long after a disaster of this magnitude, the financial burden can seem very overwhelming. It’s wonderful to know there are people available and willing to help with those immediate financial needs.

About the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program

Administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in collaboration with the Florida SBDC Network, and supported by Florida First Capital Finance Corporation (FFCFC), the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan is a short-term, interest-free working capital loan intended to help small businesses “bridge the gap” between the time of a declared disaster and when the business has secured long-term recovery resources, such as insurance proceeds or federal disaster assistance.

As a principal responder in the state’s Emergency Support Function for Business, Industry, and Economic Stabilization, the Florida SBDC Network supports disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation through its Business Continuation Services. As part of its service offering, Florida SBDC professionally certified consultants and disaster specialists are available to provide confidential, no-cost consulting to help affected businesses prepare disaster loan applications and with other post-disaster challenges.

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The Florida SBDC was wonderful to work with. The loan process was very straightforward, which we appreciated. We had a great conversation with the Florida SBDC and the time that we were required to work on the loan was minimal.”

Meghan Austin, Manager — Cindale Farms