We’ve been keeping a close tabs on what’s happening with the Hurricane Irma recovery last fall and while we have been working diligently to keep moving forward along with the rest of Florida, some Federal funding will go a long way to help keep our groves healthy for the future. USA today shared an article last month reviewing how significantly the aftershock of Irma has impacted Florida Growers, but how far we’ve come and how much this special funding will help not only Growers, but the economy of the Florida itself.
The state that provides most of America’s orange juice is finally getting a sweet taste of much-needed relief.
The Trump Administration announced Tuesday that Florida will receive $340 million in a block grant to reimburse citrus growers in the state whose groves were torn up and flooded by Hurricane Irma last year.
The money is part of the $2.36 billion in disaster relief funding Congress passed in December to reimburse farmers and ranchers across the country — including the Sunshine State — who suffered losses from natural disasters such as storms, floods and wildfires.
Aside from the special fund for citrus which is primarily for tree resettingg and replacement, Florida growers also will be able to apply for help from federal sources to cover the loss of their fruit.
Both the federal and state funding will provide a lifeline for Florida growers who provide 60% of the oranges squeezed into juice but have seen their ranks thinned in recent years by narrow profit margins, rising costs and bad weather.
Until Irma, the most pressing challenge to the state’s iconic, multi-billion-dollar industry was solving the Citrus Greening disease that’s destroyed many of their crops and forced hundreds out of business, said Mike Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents most growers in the state.
Irma destroyed about 70 percent of the state’s orange crop. The state estimated total agricultural losses from Irma at more than $2 billion, including nearly $761 million from citrus.
“It is going to play a major role in stabilizing the Florida citrus industry,” Sparks said. The money “gives us the opportunity to recover the majority of our losses. Without it, we were at a crossroads.”
The block grant to be distributed through the state to growers will cover expected losses during the 2018 through the 2020 cropyears for such expenses as the cost of replacing trees, repairing damages to irrigation systems, and other work.
“Last year our nation experienced some of the most significant disasters we have seen in decades, some back-to-back, at the most critical time in their production year,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a USDA news release announcing the block grant. “The Florida citrus industry was likely hit the hardest, and with such a high-value crop, they face a steeper financial burden and as a whole, have less coverage through our traditional insurance options.”
The announcement followed a heavy, behind-the-scenes bipartisan push by Florida lawmakers to help the state’s battered citrus industry, notably from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland.
“I am proud that we can finally begin to address some of the economic damages suffered by growers and make sure that crop yields, and life throughout Florida’s heartland, return to normal as quickly as possible,” said Rubio, who helped craft the disaster relief package last year as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Florida lawmakers were frustrated last year with the administration after three rounds of disaster relief funding requests did not include citrus aid. Eventually, Congress added the funding as part of a catch-all spending bill Congress passed in December
Florida citrus growers hope to start applying for assistance as early as July. The actual government checks probably won’t reach them until the fall, but at least they’ll be able to spend money on production knowing they’ll be reimbursed.
With about 4,000 growers left in the state — about half the number a decade ago — the aid will rescue an industry that’s an economic engine in dozens of rural communities dotting Central and Southwest Florida, Sparks said.
“These dollars being pumped back into the Florida citrus growers are going to have immediate returns for rural, central Florida,” he said. “It’s going to keep these small towns and communities doing what they do best: growing and supporting Florida citrus.”