Florida’s citrus industry continues to struggle nearly four months after Hurricane Irma swept through the state and caused billions of dollars worth of damage -- and state officials are begging the federal government for money to help farmers recover.
On Friday, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its latest projections for the 2017-2018 orange crops, predicting an unchanged forecast of 46 million boxes of oranges for the season.
Officials predicted Florida would produce 54 million boxes at the beginning of the citrus season, but estimates dropped after Hurricane Irma struck the state last September.
Valencia oranges are projected to account for 27 million boxes while the non-Valencia oranges are anticipated to fill around 19 million boxes.
If realized, Friday’s numbers would be a decrease of 8 million boxes, a 33 percent decline over the last year. The numbers are identical to December’s estimates.
The December forecast numbers were the lowest since the 1944-1945 citrus production season of 42.2 million boxes.
Irma whacked the citrus industry with more than $760 million in damages in September after it whipped the state with high-speed winds while causing massive flooding and extensive damage to Florida’s agriculture industry.
That estimate is just a starting number -- other officials have guessed the total damages from the storm could end up totaling over $1 billion when all is said and done.
On Friday, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam emphasized the need for federal intervention to help citrus farmers fully recover from the catastrophe, which could take years to recover from.
“Florida’s iconic citrus industry and its growers continue to struggle with the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Irma,” Putnam said in a statement.
Putnam has been pushing for Washington to funnel extra money to the Sunshine State to help get farmers’ feet back off the ground. Without “emergency assistance” from the federal government, Putnam says the road to recovery will be much longer and much more difficult.
“This damage, combined with the cumulative impacts of citrus greening, leaves Florida’s growers in desperate need of support,” he said.
Recovery money could be on its way to Florida farmers soon. In December, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure setting aside $2.6 billion in federal relief for Florida’s agriculture industry, but the plan still has to be approved by the U.S. Senate.
The Senate is scheduled to consider the proposal as part of a larger $81 billion disaster relief project.
Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio called on their fellow senators to be swift and deliberate in passing the relief measure.
“It is past time for the Senate to act,” the senators wrote in a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Unfortunately, Congress has delayed providing this aid for too long while our communities face the consequences of our inaction. It is imperative that Americans nationwide know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct resources needed to help them in the recovery process.”