Putnam: Hurricane Relief Requires ‘Act of Congress’

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Putnam

Federal assistance for citrus growers in the wake of Hurricane Irma will be more problematic than following past hurricanes, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam told the Florida Citrus Commission on Wednesday. He explains why and updates reports about damage to the citrus crop.

“The simple change from 2004-05 is that Congress in the intervening years has taken away the discretion of the secretary of agriculture,” Putnam says. “Which means that aid that in 2004 was rapid, helpful and really subject only to the White House and the secretary of agriculture, now will require an act of Congress, which will be more burdensome, slower and more difficult to craft in a way that is helpful to all of our growers.”

Putnam describes a recent aerial tour he took of the citrus region with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “All of the citrus-growing areas of the state have been hammered,” Putnam says. “He (Perdue) saw completely defoliated trees, trees blown over, carpets of fruit that had been washed to one end of the grove by water and groves still in standing water.”

In the hardest hit Southwest citrus region, Putnam says, “As the week has gone by, the loss numbers have gone up. We’ve seen the decomposition take place. We’ve seen the damage to the trees begin to manifest itself … and I’m getting reports that adjusters are already on the ground writing 100 percent losses in Southwest Florida.”

Putnam reports crop losses of 30 percent and more on the Ridge “based on early information from growers, from my own driving around windshield tours of the Ridge. There’s easily 30 to 40 percent of the fruit on the ground in the Alturas area … and it just continues to ratchet up as you move south.”

“The (Indian) River was certainly not spared,” he continues. “The size of the grapefruit put a lot of fruit on the ground … This is a catastrophic event for an industry that’s already a shadow of  its former self.”

The agriculture commissioner concludes by saying citrus growers will recover from the hurricane, as their fathers and grandfathers did from freezes, hurricanes and diseases. “We are no less tough than our ancestors,” Putnam says.

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large