Floridians Are Looking For Some Relief

October 1, 2004 - 11:29

Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne are all gone and a distant memory for the country all except for the people in Florida. Clean up is under way and the Weather Channel is telling us that the skies are clear, for now. However, worrying about another hurricane is the last thing on the minds of growers in the state of Florida. For some it may not even matter at this point if another hits because their crops are already damaged to the point of no return. Others that were not damaged as badly are stuck with millions of dollars of crops because so many of the retail outlets in the states have been damaged or are unable to take shipment.

GPN tried to contact some growers but currently they seem to have enough to deal with. We do know that in the course of the four storms, caladium growers were hit pretty badly, as was a number of nursery growers and many, many others. However, with all of this said, federal and state officials, President Bush, Florida Governor Bush and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman are working hard to help all of the growers in agriculture to get millions of dollars in aid after the three officials toured parts of the state to see the damage first hand.

According to Reuters, the agricultural damage to the state of Florida will be approximately $3 billion, which includes all segments of the industry trees, ornamentals, ag crops, etc. Damage from Charley and Frances alone was about $2.2 million and then hit Ivan and Jeanne, which added to the pot.

“The damage was spread across all sectors, from the $10 billion a year nursery industry that produces house plants and flowers, to the $9.1 billion a year citrus industry that grows premium grapefruits and oranges for the fresh fruit and juice markets. Florida supplies 75 percent of all U.S. grapefruits. The timber, sugar and aquaculture industries also got pummeled during the harsh bout of stormy weather,” according to a Reuters article.

According to Terence McElroy, spokesman for Florida agriculture commissioner Charlie Bronson, in a Reuters article, "What you're talking about is $3 billion from, in a good year, we might sell $7 billion worth of product at farm level," he said. "While there's structural damage, maybe $1.5 billion or $2 billion of that $7 billion in cash sales has been knocked off the trees or been flooded out."

As of right now, the government has authorized approximately $500 million in disaster aid for Florida agriculture however, according to the Associated Press, President Bush plans to ask for an additional $400 million for all of the farmers and growers affected by the four hurricanes. The following information is provided by the FNGLA.

"President Bush is committed to providing relief to Floridians. We will use existing funds and authorities to quickly launch the Florida Hurricane Agricultural Disaster Assistance in an effort to help growers in their cleanup efforts and to compensate them for lost crops and trees," according to FNGLA, Veneman said this during the compensation announcement with Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Rep. Adam Putnam. "We are now in the process of determining agricultural damages from Hurricane Ivan in Florida and other states, as well as damages to agricultural production beyond citrus, fruits and vegetables and nursery operations from Hurricanes Frances and Charley. We will continue to provide the same level of response to other hurricane-impacted agricultural sectors as our damage assessments are completed." Veneman added, "We also will continue to work with Congress to ensure adequate funding for hurricane relief."

In addition to the Florida Hurricane Agricultural Disaster Assistance program, Veneman outlined other available USDA assistance including a disaster food stamp program for more than 15 of the hardest hit Florida counties; more than $54.9 million in replacement Food Stamp benefits issued to 300,000 families; more than 2.5 million pounds of USDA commodities valued at approximately $3 million; and $5 million in special funds for baby food and formula.

To help address housing and infrastructure needs, Veneman announced that Tom Dorr, senior advisor for Rural Development issues, will be meeting with local, county and state government officials in Florida to assess needs and address such issues as housing for farm workers. Housing assistance has been provided for families displaced from USDA-sponsored housing.

Sign-up for citrus, fruits and vegetables and plasticulture vegetables under Florida Hurricane Disaster Assistance will begin early October with payments beginning shortly after sign-up. A sign-up date for nursery producers will be announced in the very near future.

Nursery payments will be based on a percentage of inventory loss (exact percentage is yet to be determined) plus a flat rate payment of $250 per acre to address general clean up costs from the hurricanes.

Each producer payment is limited to $80,000. Payment rates will be 5 percent less for producers who did not obtain Federal Crop Insurance, which is available from the Risk Management Agency, or on coverage under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which is available from the FSA. Similar to a number of other USDA programs, payments will not be available for producers whose adjusted gross income is $2.5 million or higher, unless 75 percent is derived from farming and forestry. In addition, producers will be required to agree to purchase crop insurance for next year's crop. Other conditions will apply. A Federal Register notice will be published providing more program details.

The closing date for sign-up will be announced at a later date, but producers will be given ample opportunity to complete the process. Producers in any of the eligible counties are encouraged to visit their local FSA county office to begin the sign-up process.

The FSA has developed a Web site that provides producers with one convenient location for details on the new disaster assistance, as well as other existing assistance. The Web site can be accessed at http://disaster.usda.gov.

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