By Mike Sparks
We wrapped up the fourth Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) meeting in Fort Pierce yesterday with a large crowd at the Agricultural Research Service facility. All told, Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted almost 800 attendees during the week. If you didn’t attend one of the events, we have some information for you regarding the start of the WHIP application period, which begins July 16. At that time, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) will also begin distributing fact sheets and more information on the program. We will make sure you get every available piece of information.
FCM suggests you call your local USDA Farm Service Agency office immediately to set up an appointment to discuss WHIP eligibility.
For a list of FSA offices, go to https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=fl&agency=fsa
If your farm is not registered and mapped with FSA, you will need to do it to take part in WHIP. So when setting up an appointment, inquire about the process. You must be in FSA’s system to take part in the WHIP. There are no adjusted gross income (AGI) provisions in the WHIP program, and growers who receive 75 percent of their AGI from agriculture will be eligible for up to $900,000 in payments, while those deriving less than 75 percent from farming will be capped at $125,000. A grower’s insurance coverage will factor into the WHIP payments with more coverage resulting in higher payments.
In addition to WHIP, the Florida Division of Emergency Management will manage a block grant program that contains $340 million for citrus growers. There are no AGI or payment limits with the block grant program, other than the Congressional mandate that citrus financial recovery cannot exceed 85 percent of estimated losses for all insured growers, and 65 percent losses for uninsured growers.
However, anyone who wants to take part in the block grant relief program must first submit a WHIP application. To prevent duplication, the WHIP data will be used to determine eligibility for the block grant program.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the industry are still working out the details of the block grant program, but we know it will have three buckets of funds:
- Compensation for replanting or rehabilitating trees damaged during Irma, including the cost of new trees and irrigation systems, fertilization and other grove caretaking costs.
- Compensation for growers for lost production.
- Two-year crop insurance subsidy if you commit to buying 60/100 coverage over the next four years. The programs require growers to buy tree and crop insurance for at least two years. A four-year commitment gets the subsidy.
We understand there is a lot of complexity to WHIP and accompanying paperwork. But we believe this is a fair program that will provide the necessary funding to get growers back on their feet in addition to building a foundation for the industry to expand in the coming decade. As more details emerge, we will keep you informed. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Mike Sparks is executive vice president/chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual.
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