Florida has reached the halfway point in dispensing a $343 million federal grant it received for citrus growers who sustained damage in Hurricane Irma two years ago, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I think that that’s been much-needed relief,” DeSantis said of the $173 million that has been distributed, mostly since he took office in January.
“We’re going to continue to do that, and not just with citrus, but for all the hurricane-affected communities, (Hurricane) Michael affected areas,” DeSantis added, referring to the storm that hit the Panhandle last year. “We really believe that getting this stuff through the bureaucracy quickly is important.”
DeSantis addressed the issue Tuesday in Vero Beach during the unveiling of plans for an international partnership, including Coca-Cola, to help Florida’s struggling grapefruit production.
As part of a $25 million deal, Coca-Cola, partnering with Japan-based Takasago, intends to plant 1,500 acres of grapefruit trees in western St. Lucie County with Peace River Citrus Produce and the Scott Family Companies, both of Vero Beach.
“Florida citrus is not dead,” said Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican and citrus farmer. “Florida citrus is very much alive. It may look different in 10 years, 15 or 20 years. But at the end of the day, it will exist. We will stand firm.”
The federal citrus grant, part of a $2.36 billion disaster-relief package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in February 2018, was designed specifically for Florida, where citrus growers posted 75-year lows in production because of damage caused as Irma swept across the state in September 2017.
DeSantis said most of the grant remained untapped when he took office in January.
“Washington had done their job,” DeSantis said. “But when I took office, the state had paid out less than $500,000 of that $340 million.”
DeSantis, pointing to a University of Florida study with the Florida Department of Citrus, concluded the citrus industry supports about 50,000 jobs and accounts for $7.2 billion in economic impact. “Even with some of the tough times,” DeSantis said.
Tuesday’s announcements came as the 2019-2020 growing season is getting underway for the industry, which continues to battle the deadly citrus greening disease. The industry also has to confront expanding development into rural areas as the state’s population grows while national drinking habits are changing.
State lawmakers approved $18 million for citrus-greening research in the current fiscal year.
Grapefruit, which has fallen to production levels last recorded a century ago, accounted for 6 percent of the citrus grown in Florida last year.
A survey of Florida citrus land released in August by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 25,339 acres of grapefruit in Florida. The grapefruit acres account for just under 6 percent of the 430,601 acres of commercial citrus, spread across 25 Florida counties, according to the survey.
The overall citrus acreage was down 4 percent from a year earlier and is the lowest total since the survey was started in 1966.
Source: News Service of Florida
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