On September 18, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Congressman Tom Rooney ad Senator Marco Rubio flew in a helicopter to get an aerial view of farm damage from Hurricane Irma. Described by Rubio as an “agriculture catastrophe,” the storm ravished many Florida crops.
Since many Florida vegetables were not in the ground yet, they did not suffer too much crop loss. However, Putnam said vegetable growers now face a tight window to get their beds re-prepared for the fall crop. Putnam believes that many growers will miss the November harvest, but hopefully they will not be too far behind.
The industry struggling the most from Irma is citrus. Since the trees were bearing fruit at the time of the storm, citrus growers experienced major crop loss. According to Putnam, it is now estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the citrus crop has been lost due to the storm. The biggest issue now is growers losing additional fruit because of extreme flooding in their groves. “The path of the storm came right up the heartland of agriculture in Florida,” Putnam said.
Due to federal changes, Secretary Perdue’s relief actions are limited. However, he is doing what he can to offer adequate resources for struggling growers. He encourages growers to reach out to their local Farm Service Agency and document absolutely everything. He recognizes how severe the damage is and how many people will be impacted moving forward. “You see it on TV, you read about it, but it’s nothing like being on the ground,” Perdue said.
Putnam said as of right now, he is impressed by the resilience of the impacted farmers to pick up and keep going. However, he realizes that “Irma pushed all of us to the brink.” He is thankful for Secretary Perdue’s leadership during this difficult time, but there is still a lot to do. “It’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Putnam concluded.
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