(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) has approved Florida’s disaster designation request for 17 counties and 10 contiguous counties impacted by freezing temperatures that affected the state’s agricultural community in the last week of January.
“With the approval of our request for a disaster declaration, farmers in Florida have resources available to them as they continue their recovery efforts from recent freezing temperatures,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
“This disaster declaration will provide additional recovery assistance to our hardworking agricultural producers impacted by the freezing temperatures,” FDEM Director Kevin Guthrie said. “The Division will continue to identify all available resources for impacted farmers and ensure they have access to all programs that will help them recover.”
A USDA disaster declaration affords eligibility to agricultural producers and operators to receive assistance from the Farm Service Agency, including emergency loans. Those operating in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a USDA disaster declaration to apply.
Florida growers were hit with subfreezing temperatures January 28-30. By February, it was projected that Florida would produce the smallest batch of its signature crop – oranges – since World War II.
Coupled with sub-freezing temperatures and a persistent disease infecting citrus trees, Florida citrus growers have been fighting a battle on two fronts. While the state and industry have worked to find a solution, citrus growers asked Americans to help by buying Florida citrus.
According to a March 11 Nielsen retail report, it appears that they did just that.
For the 4-week period ending Feb 26, average year-over-year gallon sales of NFC Orange Juice were up by 4.3% compared to 2019-20; gallon sales for the season beginning October 2021 were up 11.2% compared to 2019-20, according to Nielsen.
Additionally, eCommerce results reached more than $45.7 million in attributed sales of Florida Orange Juice since July 1, Steve Johnson, chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the Florida Department of Citrus, announced. “Our goal of $30 million is long in the rearview mirror.”
He told Florida citrus growers, “as Thomas Edison said, ‘Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’ We are not those people.”
Under the USDA approval, those impacted by the freeze can apply for USDA assistance in 17 primary counties: Broward, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Manatee, Martin, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, St. Lucie and Sarasota counties.
Those in 10 contiguous counties are also eligible for UDSA assistance: Brevard, Charlotte, Lake, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas and Sumter.
Four programs are available under the approved disaster declaration.
- The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters.
- The Tree Assistance Program provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
- Emergency Farm Loans are available depending on the percentage of the crop that is lost.
- The Livestock Indemnity Program provides payments equal to 75% of the average fair market value of lost livestock.
Those impacted in the eligible counties are encouraged to contact their local Farm Service Agency office to apply.
DeSantis requested assistance from the USDA Feb. 7. He also issued an executive order directing state agencies to respond to the emergency and waived several restrictions to more easily transport emergency equipment, supplies, personnel or agricultural food commodities and citrus.
Those impacted by the freeze were also encouraged to fill out a damage survey to determine what assistance they might be able to receive.
Unfortunately, the USDA disaster declaration for January’s freeze didn’t go far enough to help Florida citrus growers. We’ve applied and been told that currently, no disaster programs are available for crop loss due to freeze. This is the official position of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Citrus growers that suffered below freezing temps are in desperate need of crop loss disaster program. Actually, it isn’t just citrus growers, all growers that had extreme crop loss due to freeze/heavy frost in help as well.