February 1, 2010

USDA declares Florida freeze disaster areas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared nearly all of Florida counties as natural disaster areas after record cold weather struck the Sunshine State in early and mid-January.

On Jan. 29, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued an official declaration designating 60 of the state’s 67 counties as primary natural disaster areas after growers suffered losses from record frosts and freezes Jan. 2-14.

Nearly all of state’s peninsular counties and all of Florida’s southern counties are in the disaster area — from Tampa, Fla. to the Florida Keys and from the Jacksonville area to the Indian River citrus region and to Immokalee and Naples in southwest Florida.

The declaration allows federal resources such as low-interest loans from the Farm Service Agency to help growers financially recover from the freeze.

Growers and grower groups say the cold damaged a minimum of a third of the state’s winter produce and up to 75% of south Florida vegetables.

“Record cold temperatures over an unprecedented 12-day period dealt a serious blow to Florida agriculture,” Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., said in a news release. “I have spent several days inspecting farms across our state, and it is clear that every sector of Florida agriculture — from aquaculture to zucchini — was affected.

Putnam said the federal program should help growers return to harvesting as soon a possible.

The continuous subfreezing temperatures also put many farmworkers out of work, Putnam said in the release.

Read more about the federal programs here

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