ONE OF THE GREAT PARTS of working in Florida agriculture is that every year we get to start fresh. If we learn from past successes or mistakes, then we have another opportunity to do a better job in a new season.
But putting last season behind us will not be easy for some. While those fortunate few who had a good season or those who had crop or whole farm revenue insurance will be okay, many other farms are strained financially.
I have received a lot of calls from growers who are having difficulty maintaining cash flow and the traditional sources of financial assistance are not available when the chips are down. The stories are heartbreaking.
The tragic part of this story is that there is— or rather, was— financial assistance available to us through the USDA. But, apparently, most growers did not report their crop losses to their local Farm Service Agency, so, as far as the FSA is concerned; we had a “normal” season.
Reported production losses of only 30 percent or more would have triggered a request from the FSA to the USDA for disaster declarations in individual counties throughout the state. This would have opened the door for assistance in the form of low or no interest loans and some grants to help growers live to fight another year.
One Farm Service Agency employee I talked to, who is a blueberry grower himself, told me that he had also not bothered to report his 50 percent crop loss to his own agency. I find this incredulous, but mostly sad.
If you have not already done so, get in touch with your local FSA office and let them know your production losses for last year. Contact information for the state FSA office can be found at the end of this letter. To find detailed contact information for your local FSA office, scan the QR code also found at the end of this letter.
The other problem we had this season was when insurance adjustors counted unharvested fruit in the field as “production.” They did not seem to understand that no grower is going to harvest a crop that is going to return them negative income in the end. Or that continuing to harvest for a few pennies per pound profit pushes back our trimming schedule, reduces summer growth time and puts our crop for next year at risk of significantly lower production. Whole farm revenue insurance bypasses most of these “fruit left in the field” issues.
In an attempt to solve some of these issues, I have met with the most senior managers at the state and federal agencies that can help us solve these problems. I think I was successful in educating them about the challenges of Florida blueberry production, and I hope we will see some changes coming in the future.
I have also maintained contact with Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and our legislators in Tallahassee. I will continue to maintain contact with senior staffers at the state, local, and federal level to ensure that our voices are heard.
So, we will move forward to another season, a bit battered, but more educated and prepared to meet the challenges that face us almost daily in the Florida blueberry industry.
Inside this issue, you’ll find resources that will help you to that end, including:
- An update on blueberry crop insurance in Florida
- Financial strategies and insights discussed during the Florida Agriculture Financial Management Conference that may prove useful for your operation
- Reminders for tracking chill accumulation in the coming months
- A detailed overview of tools available to you through the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN)
- A briefing on a research study, which revealed opportunities to generate more consumer interest and demand for blueberries
- And, last but not least, updated tables from the 2016 UF/IFAS Florida Blueberry Integrated Pest Management Guide
As always, I wish everyone a safe and successful winter and look forward to some cooperation and kindness from Mother Nature for our upcoming harvest season.
Florida Blueberry Growers’ Association