TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Farmers in the Florida Panhandle were devastated by Hurricane Michael and have been undercut by cheaper Mexican crops.
A coalition of Florida lawmakers and state officials met with the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday morning, discussing what can be done to help.
The meeting came just one day after the $19.1 billion disaster relief package was signed into law.
The news came as a relief to many in the Panhandle, farmers in particular, who suffered an estimated $1.5 billion loss of crops after Hurricane Michael.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with a panel of Florida officials to hear what needs are still unmet.
"We want to help people survive, to farm and go another day,” Perdue said.
The disaster relief package included $4.5 billion specifically to help with agricultural losses.
Jared Moskwitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said there is now a sense of urgency to get boots on the ground.
“This is a piece that is literally going to put money into people's hands that have been dramatically affected and whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Michael,” said Moskowitz.
Perdue said help will be coming quickly.
“We expect this to be weeks not months,” Perdue said.
Florida farmers have also been facing stiff competition from cheaper Mexican crops.
Concerns have been raised that there are not enough protections for farmers in the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The lack of seasonal protections in the agreement was disappointing to Purdue, but he notes that even in the old NAFTA agreement, no such protections existed.
"We were not able and successful in getting in there, but we didn't go backwards,” said Perdue.
Perdue said he’s working with the Department of Commerce to find solutions to prevent some of the unfair trade practices used by Mexican farmers to undercut U.S. farmers.