Miamidade Farmers Have Lost 286 Million And Counting From Cold Spell
Written by Risa Polansky on February 4, 2010
By Risa Polansky
Though most Miamians have warmed up since January’s record cold, local farmers are still feeling the chill — to the tune of $286 million and counting.
"We saw some unprecedented cold days the first two weeks of January," said Charles LaPradd, Miami-Dade County’s agricultural manager. "That bout of cold weather really impacted our industry."
Miami-Dade’s farmers generally do around $660 million in sales a year, he told county commissioners Tuesday, which means at least 43% of sales will be lost to the cold.
It looks now like last month’s freeze translates to a $286 million hit to the industry, said Don Pybas, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Miami-Dade extension director.
And it could get worse, Mr. LaPradd warned. It’s unclear now what effect the harsh weather might have had on fruit crops expected in summer and fall.
"Our loss estimates might increase," he said.
Now, 90% of the sweet corn grown here is gone, Mr. Pybas said.
Miami-Dade is the No. 1 bean-producing county in the country, he said, but about 85% of the bean crop was hit, translating to a $20 million loss.
About 80% of round tomatoes have been impacted, about $42 million in losses.
"I don’t think there was much that was untouched," Mr. LaPradd said.
And because of quality concerns, Mr. Pybas said, of the produce that can be harvested, "not all commodities are being able to be sold."
All this translates to millions lost for area farmers and the local economy.
The US Department of Agriculture last week designated Miami-Dade a natural disaster area along with 59 other Florida counties given the severe, widespread damage from the freeze.
That opens the door for funding relief for farmers, like low-interest loans, Mr. LaPradd said.
But certain regulations for governmental assistance could preclude Dade growers, he said, such as requiring an adjusted gross income of less than $2 million or having to prove another lending institution has refused a loan.
Local farmers have been granted exceptions after other disasters such as hurricanes, he said, and other funding appropriations could open up moving forward post-freeze.
To help ensure maximum assistance here, Commission Chair Dennis Moss, whose district is in South Dade, asked that the county lobby on behalf of local farmers as part of its federal legislative program.
"This is a major issue in our community," he said, and the huge economic loss is "not something to sneeze at."