Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam joined Governor Rick Scott to discuss the recent agricultural damage caused by Hurricane Irma and to request federal assistance. The following are excerpts from his remarks:
“The Florida delegation has a long history of coming together in the aftermath of these types of disasters and bringing the full weight of the third largest delegation in support of our state.
“We’re grateful for you being here and for your efforts on our behalf. Every single one of your districts has been impacted, if not by Irma, then by Nate and by the continued fallout of Hurricane Maria in ways that will continue to affect Florida.
“The Governor has done an extraordinary job before, during and after the storm managing this crisis.
“The one area that doesn’t historically have a standing program of assistance is disaster assistance for agriculture, for the things we grow in Florida. Florida agriculture has historically been the zebra of American agriculture. Most US ag policy is designed for Midwestern program crops.
“So dragon fruit, and jackfruit, and avocados in Homestead, and the citrus industry throughout the state, and the winter vegetable industry historically have not had the risk management tools or disaster assistance tools that other parts of US agricultural commodities have had, which is why we’re here.
“The simple ask is that disaster assistance for agriculture relief be included in the bill that’s moving this week. I know that’s a short turnaround, I know that’s a heavy lift, but time is of the essence for supporting growers who have between 50- and 100-percent of their crop on the ground.
“So this is a broad calamity for the second largest industry in the state. The preliminary economic reports peg the loss at $2.5 billion.
“You can stand in any orange grove in Florida right now and listen to the fruit hitting the ground like rainfall because of the longer-term damage that continues to play out. You can walk through any grove in Florida and smell the rot of fruit that was just weeks away from being harvested and, as the Governor said, for the first time in years may have been a larger crop than the year before.
“As it is today, the official crop estimate will come out tomorrow, and I put zero stock in it because there’s no way they have an accurate count of the estimate they’ll release tomorrow based on the continued damage that’s falling out from Hurricane Irma and the fact that they pulled their limb counters out of the groves at a time when they didn’t have an accurate picture of the long-term damage to the trees and to the crop.
“We’re looking at catastrophic losses across these commodities and so with that, I’ll close by saying our ask is that the bill that the House will take up this week that it includes the $2.5 billion to be directed to the USDA for the USDA to then administer the program.”