Federal aid to help Florida's struggling timber growers

'We expect this to be weeks not months'
Sonny Perdue
Posted at 6:21 PM, Jun 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-10 03:01:28-04

The nation’s Agriculture Secretary told Florida leaders hurricane help is coming sooner rather than later.

Speaking at a roundtable inside the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, Friday morning, Sonny Perdue said with the $19.1 billion disaster bill signed, aid will begin to flow in the coming weeks.

“If you know the speed of the federal government, I can assure you we will beat that by multiples,” the Trump appointee said. “We expect this to be weeks not months.”

Perdue expected United States Department of Agriculture “jump teams” would be on the ground to begin assisting those impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Florida residents and the ag sector have been awaiting the aid approval as Republicans and Democrats sparred over the bill for nearly eight months.

“Look, this stuff,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, “it loses it efficacy if you have to wait forever and a day.”

A priority for the roundtable group, comprised of lawmakers and ag advocates, was helping Florida’s devastated timber industry. Michael left behind 72-million tons of downed trees, dealing a $1.3 billion blow to the state.

“It’s sitting there, rotting, waiting to catch fire,” said Sen. George Gainer, a Republican from the state’s 2nd District. “We have been in one heck of a mess over there.”

Perdue said assistance would be available through block grants. He expected the process to move faster than previous disasters due to knowledge gained from Hurricane Irma, when block grants were used to aid the state’s suffering citrus growers.

“Hopefully money will flow, help will flow regarding reimbursement for the efforts they’ve made already,” Perdue said. “For those who haven’t been able to for economic reasons, this enable them to begin doing those kinds of things.”

The Secretary was also asked about hemp as a replacement for some of the lost trees. Florida’s legislature recently approved a bill to regulate growth of the crop, which can be manufactured into a material similar to wood.

Perdue said USDA officials are working on some federal regulations for hemp. He expected them in place by the 2020 growing season.