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Florida Citrus Growers Seek Congress’s Help in New Farm Bill

Bloomberg – December 8, 2017

Florida citrus growers say they will seek improved risk management tools and crop insurance in the next farm bill, after growers were hit by Hurricane Irma in August and September, threatening to devastate the nation’s largest citrus-producing state.

The Department of Agriculture estimated fruit losses up to 100 percent in some areas, along with the increased spread of citrus greening, a bacterial disease. Growers will be looking to Congress to make changes in the next farm bill that will help them recover from the hurricane and protect them from future disasters.

“After meeting with committee staff, we will be very present during the farm bill negotiations going forward on what the right management tool for citrus will be, whether it’s direct payments or better crop insurance,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, told Bloomberg Government Dec. 8.

The Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) is an executive agency of the Florida government charged with the marketing, research and regulation of the Florida citrus industry and governed by the Florida Citrus Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the Governor of Florida to represent citrus growers, processors and packers. FDOC is funded by an assessment paid by growers on each box of citrus that moves through commercial channels.

Because citrus isn’t considered a large commodity crop, farmers have minimal crop insurance coverage. As for fighting bacterial citrus greening, producers only receive catastrophic coverage through the USDA Risk Management Agency. Although many growers have the coverage, it is only applicable if the loss is enormous.
Shepp said the USDA’s risk management tools were inadequate to citrus growers’ needs and predicted recovery time for producers will be a minimum of two years and more likely three.

Growing Support
In a Dec. 7 interview with Bloomberg Government, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he would be supportive of lawmakers deciding whether to make citrus farmers eligible for disaster payments in the wake of hurricanes that hit growing regions earlier in the year.

“People in the citrus industry feel like [safety net programs] have been insufficient, but it’s up to Congress whether they look at direct disaster payments or not,” said Perdue.

Thirty-eight members of the Florida and Texas delegations sent a letter Dec. 1 to House GOP leadership telling them the latest disaster supplemental appropriations request from the Office of Budget and Management was “inadequate” and they would not support the legislation unless proper funding was added.
“The severely underfunded request neglects the fundamental needs of our states and will not provide the bare minimum necessary for our states to continue recovering from the storm,” the lawmakers said.

The White House sent Congress a request for an additional $44 billion in disaster relief aid on Nov. 17, but the request was not added to the House’s continuing resolution to keep the government funded. The USDA requested $1 billion for emergency agriculture assistance.

“We are all in for finding what fits for Congress and the growers so next time this situation comes up we’ll have a clearer direction on what growers need to be doing,” said Shepp.

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