Government funds available to help your operation


IF YOU KNOW where to find it, if you know how to access it, and if you meet certain qualifications, government funds are available to help your citrus operation. For that matter, government funds, at both the federal and state levels, are available to help a wide variety of agriculture-related enterprises.

Much of this financial assistance comes in the form of cost-share programs, which have a government agency pledging a percentage of a project cost or a commitment of a specified level of support. For the Florida citrus industry and other ag sectors, cost-share programs are available through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Among the most important federal cost-share initiatives, at least as far as Florida is concerned, is the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which aims to help a citrus industry severely damaged by the citrus greening (Huanglongbing, or HLB) disease.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill) authorized TAP to provide financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters — including diseases like HLB. The 2014 Farm Bill made the once-temporary TAP program a permanent disaster program and provided retroactive authority to cover eligible losses dating back to Oct. 1, 2011.

Among the Sunshine State initiatives is a new financial-assistance program for citrus growers impacted by greening. Passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, House Bill 7007 included a provision that established a cost-sharing program for the removal or destruction of abandoned citrus groves. The goal of the program is to help growers eliminate material that harbors citrus greening and the insect — the flying Asian citrus psyllid— that spreads the bacterial disease.

As H.B. 7007 moved through the legislative process, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam expressed gratitude for the almost-unanimous support the bill was getting.

“I thank the House of Representatives, Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli and Representative (Jake) Raburn for their support of legislation that will assist the citrus industry as it battles citrus greening,” Putnam said. “Florida’s citrus industry is in a fight for its life, and we must do everything we can to save this iconic industry.”

Information about cost-sharing programs available to Florida citrus growers, farmers, and ranchers is available from a variety of sources, including:

• Your nearest University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service office. In Polk County, it’s in Bartow, with a main phone number at (863) 519-1041.

• Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual at (863) 682-1111.

• The Florida Department of Agriculture at freshfromflorida.com and 1-888-397-1517.

• The USDA’s Farm Service Agency at fsa.usda.gov and (352) 379-4500 in Gainesville.

CREDIT

column by CHARLES COUNTER

BIO: Charles Counter started in the agriculture business in 1986. He is the director of Field Operations for the Haines City Citrus Growers Association, managing more than 7,000 acres of ag land in Florida. Established in 1909, the HCCGA provides for complete grove development and management, is a member of Florida’s Natural, and operates as caretaker and packer of citrus, as well as organic and conventional peaches and blueberries. To contact Charles, call (863) 557-0510 or email charles@hilltopcitrus.com.