- The RAISE Act of 2023, introduced by bipartisan lawmakers from Florida, aims to provide emergency assistance to high-value crop producers who have suffered losses due to natural disasters and extreme weather conditions.
- The bill proposes establishing a program that makes payments to producers through block grants to individual states, allowing local governments to distribute the assistance.
- The citrus industry in Florida has been severely affected by hurricanes and freezes, leading to significant production losses and a decline in profitability. The bill seeks to address these challenges and provide relief to farmers.
Bipartisan federal lawmakers from Florida introduced the Restore Agricultural Investment, Stability, and Expansion (RAISE) Act of 2023 to Congress on Friday, which aims to amend the Agricultural Act of 2014 to authorize emergency assistance for high-value crop losses.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Scott Franklin, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, and Kat Cammack, intends to provide emergency assistance to producers of high-value crops, including citrus, that have suffered losses in revenue, quality, or production due to various natural disasters and extreme weather conditions including drought, wildfire, hurricanes, and floods.
The measure further proposes that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture establish a program to make payments to producers of high-value crops through block grants to individual states, meaning that the funds and responsibility for distributing assistance can be delegated to local governments.
“When extreme weather threatens our crops, as is often the case in the Sunshine State, we must be prepared to help our farmers recover and continue the important work of feeding our nation,” said Cammack.
More than 90 percent of all Florida citrus production was impacted by hurricanes in 2022, totaling 375,302 acres. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services projects the losses to cost Florida’s agriculture industry as much as $675 million.
The introduced legislation builds upon a piece of U.S. House-passed legislation known as the “Block Grant Assistance Act,” which aims to enhance the allocation of disaster relief funding for agricultural producers affected by natural calamities.
Sponsored by all 28 delegates of Florida, the bill similarly amends the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to distribute assistance for agricultural losses from Hurricane Ian through block grants, replacing the direct disbursement of funds to individual producers.
“I’m pleased that earlier this month the House unanimously passed our bill to give the USDA block grant authority to expedite disaster relief for agricultural producers still recovering from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole,” said Franklin, who led the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s passage.
Florida’s citrus industry is predicted to suffer a fifty percent drop in production compared to 2022, according to the Florida Department of Citrus (FDoC) analysis. The state agency attributes the predicted downturn to hurricanes Ian and Nicole and recurring deep freezes.
During a conference call last month, Florida Citrus CEO Matt Joyner stated that growers in Florida are now expected to produce 15.65 million boxes of oranges, 1.8 million boxes of grapefruit, and 500,000 boxes of tangerines and tangelos.
This, compared to April’s forecast, where it was projected that farmers would produce 16.1 million boxes of oranges, 1.7 million boxes of grapefruit, and 500,000 boxes of tangerines and tangelos, outlines a continuing month-over-month decline, particularly in oranges, which bring in the highest profit margins.
Industry analysts predict that Florida processors will need to depend on imports and domestic receipts to meet the current market demand. According to leaders, Florida Citrus has been on a downward trend for two decades due to issues like residential and commercial development, foreign imports, and an incurable bacterial disease known as citrus greening.
In a presentation given to the Florida Senate earlier this year, the FDoC told lawmakers that more than 375,000 acres of commercial citrus farms faced production losses due to hurricane or tropical storm-force winds, resulting in between $146.9 million and $304.3 million in production loss. Agency representatives also stated that between 8 and 11 percent of the state’s citrus trees were damaged or destroyed during hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
A cost analysis estimate conducted by the University of Florida posited that overall state agriculture loss in Florida due to the hurricanes amounted to at least $1.5 billion dollars. Agriculture is Florida’s second-largest industry behind tourism.
In the current fiscal year, Florida is projected to account for approximately 70 percent of all domestically produced orange juice, according to FDoC. Demand for Florida Citrus is anticipated to remain high through the current agricultural season but reduced overall availability could impact national market consumption.
The citrus forecast comes after the 2021-22 season marked its lowest production since World War II. Growers and farmers again pointed to a winter freeze hindering production last year.