PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: Disaster Assistance

This has been an unprecedented year in the citrus industry. Extreme rainfall, flooding, pest pressures and more have brought on significant concerns for this year’s crop. My typical preference, and what I’ve heard consistently from growers is tell me what I need to know when I need to know it. We had hoped to have more definity by now but with so much uncertainty surrounding the issue, the timing is right to communicate what we know now and what we are working on to deliver meaningful results to your bottom lines.

Damages to citrus and specifically related to citrus thrips is unique from typical disasters and varies significantly across the variety and growing regions. We have been working with our Pest and Disease Task Force, and Marketing and Government Relations Committees to evaluate the severity of the damage and likely market scenarios. We’ve met with multiple agencies within USDA and talked to multiple crop insurance companies about programs that may be available to growers and informed the committees on best paths forward and here is what we know today.

First and foremost, unfortunately there isn’t currently any government funding available for disaster assistance programs for 2023 for the storm damages nor citrus thrips. They must be approved by Congress with appropriate funding levels every single year. The timing and availability of funds for relief to growers is uncertain, especially considering the gridlock that is occurring as I pen this today on keeping the government open. CCM has and will continue to work with a broad coalition of agricultural colleagues for a 2023 disaster assistance package that would be available. Best case scenario is for programs to be up and running sometime in 2024, but that could leak into 2025.

If the 2023 disaster package looks similar to years prior, it will be absolutely critical that growers communicate with their packing house on the extent of thrips damage to maximize returns. Traditionally a drop in grade has not qualified for disaster payments nor crop insurance. With the uncertainty on disaster relief, we must make informed decisions on packing unmarketable fruit compared with the availability of crop insurance payments to the grower. This will be a field by field and grower by grower decision and we highly recommend those conversations start happening as soon as possible. Under prior disasters – California and Texas freezes, and hurricanes in Florida – disaster payments have been made as a bonus to crop insurance programs, so that is our nearest term objective. We are securing a scientific memo from University of California Cooperative Extension Specialist Sandipa Gautam to correlate the thrips damage to the weather events to remove any potential questions related to insurance eligibility and will share it with the industry.

Additionally, the industry is requesting a purchase of US #2 grade fruit to remove the excess in the marketplace. This would provide immediate relieve and improve overall grower returns on both choice and fancy fruit. We are actively lobbying Congress and USDA for their support on this request as we believe it is the most near-term relief option available. A buy of this type hasn’t been done before that we know of, but there is strong support from our citrus growing Congressional representatives and an openness within USDA to give it every consideration.

I’m not yet certain how this will all unfold, but I can guarantee that we are going to fight for relief with everything we have at our disposal. As always, please feel free to reach out to me or the team with any questions or comments you may have and stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available.

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