Citrus growers to go out of business before hurricane relief arrives

Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 22, 2018

DUNDEE, Fla. — Florida citrus farmers are growing worried as they still wait for hurricane relief to be dispersed. 

President Donald Trump signed the $2.36 billion disaster package back in February but growers have yet to see a penny.

“A lot of our growers are hurting right now,” Tommy Thayer with Southern Citrus Nurseries says. It’s hard to notice as a consumer besides orange juice prices going up, but growers are suffering and their pocket books are dwindling just like the trees.

Southwest Florida saw the most damage along the coast when Hurricane Irma made landfall on September 11, 2017. But the eye made its way inland and right over Polk County.

Growers lost anywhere from 20 percent to 70 percent of their crops. Those south of the county have lost even more and with little help from insurance companies, the financial burden is getting heavy.

“It will affect our bottom line, it’s hard to take a hit like this when you're multi cropped,” Thayer said.

Hurricane damage and citrus greening has turned growers to other fruits. Thayer, for example is now replacing multiple groves of oranges with blueberries, peaches, blackberries and possibly lemons in the future. According to Thayer it costs about $12,000 per acre of citrus, so when they are not producing, it is a significant loss.

“We can’t pay our bills like we want to pay them you know on time,” Thayer says.

With such a strong storm even those plants are battling back from Irma’s strong winds.

Erin Nguyen also works for Southern Citrus Nurseries and takes calls from buyers all day long.

Even over the phone she can tell the farmers are having a hard time.

“I hear the struggles in their voice and I know that they are hurting. They are wanting this funding to come through, they’re waiting for it,” Nguyen said.

Thayer tells ABC Action News production is extremely low, the growers struggling to produce as much crops as their forefathers did in 1950. Without the hurricane aid, Thayer says many small growers are going out of business and selling their land.

“We will probably end up getting our funds after September,” Thayer guesstimated. 

President Trump signed a $2.36 billion package for Florida’s citrus growers but because congress first had to approve it and the fact that it is bundled together with California and Puerto Rico’s aid as well, it’s not likely to come through before the fall. 

Which could be too late for many Polk County Farmers.

“They are struggling really, really, really bad right now,” Thayer said.