Assistance Coming for Florida Citrus

Assistance Coming for Florida Citrus

Money Being Pumped Back into Florida Citrus

by MATT COBBLE

 

NO ONE WHO works in agriculture is afraid of hard work. That being said, between three major hurricanes in as many years and the continuing struggle against citrus greening, the past few years have been especially hard.

But there is good news on the horizon! Two different programs promise to infuse more money into Florida citrus and bring relief to fatigued growers.

The first is an award from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Trade Promotion (AT) program, geared towards helping 57 different organizations to promote their agricultural products to new and different markets. Among the recipients of these funds is the Florida Department of Citrus, which will receive $550,000, which will be available for the 2019/2020 season, and may be used through up to three seasons.

On the announcement, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried shared that “we’re thrilled the USDA has provided this opportunity for Florida’s citrus growers to market their crops and increase our state’s agricultural exports by opening new markets. The coming season looks positive, and these dollars could give growers an added competitive advantage and help fuel Florida citrus success.”

The ATP program is designed to counterbalance retaliatory tariffs, or taxes levied on a nation’s imports as punishment for charging taxes on its own exports. Specifically, tariffs on not-from-concentrate orange juice, most of which is produced from Florida oranges. The program will instead promote the import of fresh Florida citrus for juicing (in store or at home) in Canadian markets.

The second of these fund sources for Florida citrus is a $343 million block grant of federal disaster relief money to help growers who were impacted by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The Florida Citrus Recovery Block Grant (CRBG) program is available to citrus producers who 1) maintain an active citrus farming operation and 2) suffered citrus crop damages or loss due to Hurricane Irma.

Growers should first apply for the Federal 2017 USDA Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) by submitting the application to their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).

The CRBG funds are available in three parts:

Eligible producers with a production loss in the 2018 season of 20 percent or more may receive as much as $385 per acre for Part 1 of the block grant, with an application and appropriate documentation. These funds are available for disbursement as soon as the application is completed and reviewed by the  department of Emergency Management, and may be used to replace trees lost or damaged by the storm, rehabilitate groves, or repair irrigation or drainage systems.

Part 2 funds are available for those growers with a production loss of 40 percent or more. These funds are meant to cover future economic losses resulting from storm damage. These additional funds, totalling up to $745.50 per acre above the Part 1 funds, are paid out over three years – up to $372.75 per acre in the first year, and up to $186.38 per acre for two more years, once documentation of tree and crop insurance for the 2020 and 2021 seasons are submitted.

Although growers will be required to carry tree and crop insurance for two seasons to receive the Part 1 and Part 2 funds, additional funds are available through Part 3 of the block grant to those growers who opt to purchase additional insurance for the 2022 and 2023 seasons as subsidies for those costs. For some growers, the choice is easy.

“We’re going to carry crop insurance regardless,” says Kyle Story, vice-president of the Story Companies in Lake Wales and past president of the Polk County Farm Bureau. “It makes sense to buy that insurance now and receive the grant reimbursement.”

Story also stresses the importance of insurance to citrus growers. “The relief process is not one we want to repeat,” he explains. “Florida citrus growers are proud of our self-sufficiency, we don’t rely on federal subsidies like other agricultural products.” Proper insurance coverage offsets the need for federal disaster relief.

The block grant funds were approved both by President Donald Trump and Congress back in February 2018, although as of last month, only $22 million of those funds had been disbursed.

Growers who wish to apply for the block grant may begin the process by completing the application on flordadisaster.org.