WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced that USDA has begun making $500 million in payments to Florida producers who suffered hurricane losses to the storm systems that struck the state in August and September.

The payments will be made under the Florida Hurricane Disaster Assistance Program announced by President Bush on Aug. 27. The program covers losses to citrus, fruit, vegetable, nursery and related operations due to Hurricanes Charley, Frances or Jeanne during the two months.

“The President promised to expedite relief to Florida, and he has delivered on that promise,” said Veneman. “Today, USDA is beginning to issue payments to Florida producers just 75 days after the first hurricane struck. This financial relief, amounting to more than $500 million, will provide a much-needed boost to Florida’s agriculture industry.”

Payments began Oct. 28 for producers whose applications have been approved by USDA Farm Service Agency’s local county committees. Payments for this assistance are authorized under Section 32 of the Act of Aug. 24, 1935, which allows the Secretary to implement programs to help restore producers’ purchasing power.

Payments to citrus producers are based on damages generally correlating to the distance from the eyes of the hurricanes and are for production loss, tree loss, rehabilitation and cleanup costs. Nursery crop payments are equal to 25 percent of the actual dollar value of inventory loss and a flat rate of $250 per eligible acre for cleanup. Fruit and vegetable producers must suffer a minimum of a 50-percent crop loss. Per-acre payments are based on the type of production practices utilized by producers.

Sign-up is ongoing for the three programs contained under the Florida Hurricane Disaster Assistance Program. Sign-up began Oct. 5, 2004, for the Florida Citrus Disaster Program; Oct. 20, 2004, for the Florida Nursery Crop Disaster Program; and Oct. 20, 2004, for the Florida Vegetable, Fruit and Tropical Fruit Disaster Program.

The end of the sign-up periods will be announced at a future date.

More information on sign-up, eligibility and payments is available at local Florida county offices and in FSA’s Florida Hurricane Disaster Assistance Program fact sheet, available online at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/facts/html/FLhurricane04.htm.

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