Florida citrus growers could receive millions in relief grants under proposed federal legislation

by | Jun 14, 2023

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Block Grant Assistance Act,” aiming to improve disaster relief funding for agricultural producers affected by natural disasters, potentially benefiting Florida citrus growers.
  • The bill proposes allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to distribute assistance through block grants instead of directly giving funds to individual producers, providing states with flexibility in allocating the funds.
  • Florida’s citrus industry is facing a drop in production due to hurricanes and freezes, potentially impacting the national market consumption of Florida citrus.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a piece of legislation this week known as the “Block Grant Assistance Act,” which aims to enhance the allocation of disaster relief funding for agricultural producers affected by natural calamities, potentially bringing millions to Florida citrus growers.

The bill, sponsored by all 28 delegates of Florida, proposes an amendment to the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to distribute assistance for agricultural losses from natural disasters like Hurricane Ian through block grants, replacing the direct disbursement of funds to individual producers.

Agricultural block grants are a form of financial assistance provided by the government to states and territories to support agricultural programs and initiatives. Instead of directly disbursing funds to individual agricultural producers, the government allocates a fixed amount of money as a block grant to eligible states. The states then have the flexibility to distribute these funds among agricultural producers based on their specific needs and priorities.

“It’s no secret that Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole left the heart of citrus country with a long road to recovery, but Florida growers have worked to recover from extreme weather before, and this year is no exception,” said the Florida Department of Citrus. “[We are] working alongside industry leaders and elected officials to help ensure Florida citrus growers have the assistance necessary while they continue to replant, rebuild, and work toward long-term solutions in the industry’s fight.”

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.


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