ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Congress passed a $36 billion hurricane relief package this week that did not include relief for Florida’s struggling citrus growers.
Hurricane Irma wiped out more than half of this year’s citrus crop, tearing fruit right off of some trees and toppling others.
“That’s employees, that’s jobs, that’s families, that’s sectors of the economy, that’s communities, that’s tax dollars that are all wasted,” grower Kyle Story said.
He hoped for some help in Congress’ relief package to save damaged trees and plant new ones.
“A little disappointed, but not in our elected officials,” he explained.
Florida senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson toured the damage to citrus trees in Polk County right after the storm and pushed for money for the industry.
“If we don’t get some kind of relief, if we don’t get some kind of rebuild package, it’s going to be catastrophic for our industry,” Andrew Meadows with Florida Citrus Mutual said.
Meadows said growers haven’t lost hope yet. Florida’s elected officials are still working to get more than $750 million for the state’s citrus industry, which Story said is critical for them to rebuild.
“I have spoken to a lot of folks who are good growers that if we don’t get federal relief, they’re not going to reinvest,” he said.
Regardless of whether growers receive federal money, experts say consumers can expect prices for orange products to go up at restaurants and grocery stores because they’ve already lost so much fruit this season.
It’s too early to tell how much prices could go up, which depends on several factors, such as how many oranges growers have in reserve and how much they import from other countries.