Florida citrus crop estimate shrinks again post-Irma

Florida citrus groves were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. Provided.

Hurricane Irma continues to haunt Florida farmers as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday once again decreased its monthly estimate of the state’s 2017-2018 citrus crop.

The USDA now says Florida will produce 46 million boxes of oranges, down 4 million boxes from November and 8 million boxes from October. The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly until the end of the season in July.  For more information go to https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/

   “This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower organization. “Unfortunately the situation is going to get worse before it gets better; we think the actual size of the 2017-2018 crop will not be known until the season is over and all the fruit is picked.”

“Clearly, this lower estimate provides stark evidence that Congress needs to pass a citrus relief package so we can start to rebuild and put the industry on a path to sustainability while saving the communities that rely on citrus,” Sparks said.

On September 10  Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state pounding Florida’s major citrus producing regions with up to 110 mph winds and 15 inches of rain. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage. A FCM survey of growers conducted post Irma pegged total fruit loss at almost 60 percent with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the Southwest part of the state.

Tuesday’s forecast represents a decline of more than 80 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday, “While much of the state has recovered and moved on from Hurricane Irma, Florida’s citrus growers continue to grapple with the unprecedented damage, which is still unfolding in many groves. Florida’s growers need support and they need it as quickly as possible. I will continue to work with Governor Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild.”

After Irma, Putnam announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.

 

 

Putnam to Commerce Sec. Ross: You live in Palm Beach, investigate Mexico!

Piles of discarded radishes line a field at Roth Farms in Belle Glade, Florida on January 11, 2017. Prices were low due to imports from Mexico, and it wasn’t worth harvesting the radishes. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Department of Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross is a Palm Beach County resident and Wednesday Florida Agriculture Commissioner reminded him of that as he urged Ross to initiate an investigation into Mexico’s unfair trade practices.

The billionaire investor and his wife Hilary Geary Ross own a house in Palm Beach.

Putnam sent a letter to  Ross emphasizing the need for fair trade, as Mexican imports have negatively affected Florida agriculture.

“As a resident of Palm Beach County, one of the most fertile growing regions in the State of Florida, you are keenly aware of the tremendous diversity of agricultural commodities produced by Florida’s farmers and ranchers,” Putnam wrote.

Palm Beach County’s winter vegetable season coincides with Mexico’s, and the cheap imports have adversely impacted Florida growers.

The Palm Beach Post covered the problem in January.

Florida agriculture has an economic impact of more than $120 billion a year and provides the impetus for more than 2 million jobs, Putnam said.

“I believe that Florida produces the highest quality agricultural commodities in the world and can successfully compete in a global market on a level playing field. Unfortunately, the current trade environment created under NAFTA is anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers,” Putnam stated.

The letter can be found here.

Florida orange forecast drops as greening disease continues to kill trees

Greening disease causes fruit to become lopsided and taste bitter.

Florida’s orange crop continues to be decimated by greening disease, and Thursday, federal forecasters dropped the orange production  estimate for the 2017-18 season by 3 million boxes from last month’s estimate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said  that Florida growers will produce 67 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, down 17 percent from the 81.5 million  boxes harvested last season. In the 2014-15 season, Florida’s commercial growers produced 96.9 million boxes of oranges.

Thursday’s  forecast represents a decline of more than 70 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.

In September 2005, USDA scientists confirmed the first U.S. detection of greening on samples of pummelo leaves and fruit from a Miami-Dade County grove. It is now endemic to Florida and found in every citrus-producing county.

The symptoms include yellow shoots, mottled leaves,  twig death, tree decline and reduced fruit size and quality. Affected fruit tastes bitter, medicinal and sour. Symptoms don’t show up for an average of two years following infection.

The disease is spread by a tiny insect called the  Asian citrus psyllid, that was first detected in the U.S. in Delray Beach in 1998. The psyllid transports the greening pathogen infected trees to healthy trees as they feed on the plant. They have mottled brown wings and sit at an angle to the shoot or leaf on which they feed.

In 2016  Putnam issued a crisis declaration  regarding growers’ Section 18 application to the Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed the immediate use of certain antimicrobial treatments to combat greening.

Florida concealed weapon licenses can now be renewed online

guns

Florida concealed weapon licenses can now be renewed online, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday.

There are more than 1.6 million active Florida concealed weapon licenses, and over 204,000 of these licenses will expire during 2017.  Florida concealed weapon licenses can now be renewed by visiting https://cwrex.freshfromflorida.com/.

 

“My goal is to make applying for or renewing a Florida concealed weapon license as convenient as possible, and this new online feature gives license holders another option when renewing,” Putnam said.

 

License holders can still renew a concealed weapons license via mail, at 41 Tax Collectors Offices across the state or at one of the department’s eight regional offices in the following locations: Doral, Fort Walton, Jacksonville, North Port, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

 

License holders will still be mailed a renewal notice from the department and will need this document in order to initiate the online renewal process.  The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does not charge individuals a fee for mailing a renewal notice or for mailing or downloading a new application package.  Any website charging consumers a fee for assistance with obtaining renewal or application documents is not affiliated with the department. The department will only charge applicable license and fingerprint fees, as set by law, upon submission of the application to the department.

 

Visit FreshFromFlorida.com to learn how to apply for or renew a Florida concealed weapon license.

Fourth sample of Miami Beach mosquitoes tests positive for Zika virus

 

Aedes aeqypti mosquitoes are the type that spread Zika.
Aedes aeqypti mosquitoes
are the type that spread Zika.

Zika has been detected in another mosquito sample from the same small area in Miami Beach, where it was announced on Sept. 1 that three other samples had tested positive for Zika, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Friday.

All samples have consisted of Aedes aeqypti mosquitoes and are from an area where increased trapping and intensified mosquito control measures have already been underway since the Florida Department of Health determined local transmission had occurred.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam issued a mosquito declaration, which is available here, on July 29 when local transmission first occurred in Florida, and today he has extended this declaration for another 45-day period.

“This find underscores the continued need already underway in Miami-Dade to employ an aggressive and comprehensive mosquito control strategy,” Putnam stated. “Only with a multi-faceted approach to controlling the Zika-carrying mosquito will we be able to protect Floridians and visitors.”

“The fact that we have identified a fourth Zika-positive mosquito pool in Miami Beach serves as further confirmation that we must continue our proactive and aggressive approach to controlling the mosquito population, including our recent decision to begin aerial spraying in combination with larvicide treatment by truck,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.

The sample announced positive for Zika today was first tested at the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Kissimmee and has undergone three quality control tests, all with the same results. Next, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will perform additional testing for further confirmation.

“Despite relentless efforts by the city and the county, this new discovery shows that the Zika threat continues to grow. Today’s announcement reinforces the need for us to continue being as aggressive as we can be against Zika,” said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Like the three positive mosquito samples announced on Sept. 1, this fourth positive mosquito pool was also collected in Miami Beach within the current zone that has been treated for local transmission.

Florida’s proactive efforts, which are conducted by local mosquito control programs and supported by the expertise provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, include: eliminating larval habitats by emptying standing water, treating water-holding containers with long-lasting larvicide, providing outdoor residual and spatial insecticide treatments to reduce adult vectors, and conducting adult mosquito surveillance to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.

Miami-Dade County’s Mosquito Control team will continue to conduct inspections to reduce mosquito breeding and perform spray treatments as necessary in a 1/8-mile radius around the trap location.

On Feb. 2 the Florida Surgeon General declared a public health emergency in regards to the Zika virus. Floridians can help prevent the spread of Zika by eliminating mosquito breeding grounds by draining standing water around their homes, businesses and communities.

Floridians can also assist by allowing officials who are conducting mosquito control efforts to access their property.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has tested more than 2,900 mosquito samples, consisting of nearly 48,000 mosquitoes, since May, and these four total samples from a small area in Miami Beach are the only samples to test positive.

 

For more information on the Zika virus, visit the Florida Department of Health’s website at FloridaHealth.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida winning the battle against one of the world’s largest snails

Florida is winning the fight against the destructive giant African land snail.
Florida is winning the fight against the destructive giant African land snail.

More than 164,000 giant African land snails  have been eliminated in Florida since the invasive snail was discovered in Miami-Dade County in 2011, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Friday.

In addition to threatening more than 500 varieties of plants and agricultural commodities, GALS consume plaster and stucco to get the calcium needed to grow their shells. The snails also carry a parasite that can cause a type of meningitis in humans and animals.

“I am proud of the significant progress we’ve made in our effort to eliminate the giant African land snail,” Putnam said. “We will remain vigilant in our fight against these invasive pests.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ detector dog teams and dedicated staff execute an aggressive program to routinely survey and destroy snails. Over the last five years, the department has detected and eliminated snails in 31 core areas, located in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Due to the success of the program, the decommissioning team is recommending that 15, or nearly half, of the core areas be decommissioned in the coming year.

The snails haven’t been found anywhere in Florida outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, FDACS spokesman Aaron Keller said.

A team of FDACS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists use the following criteria to thoroughly decommission a core area:

  • Surveillance and treatment efforts for 17 months with no detection of live GALS;
  • An additional 19 months of surveillance with no detection of live GALS;
  • A minimum of one detector dog survey; and
  • A minimum of one night survey, when snails can be more active.

 

“USDA is extremely pleased with the cooperative program’s progress in eradicating this high-impact pest of U.S. agriculture in South Florida,” said USDA State Plant Health Director Paul Hornby. “Our ongoing partnership with State, county, and city officials, and the cooperation of Florida homeowners has made this progress possible. USDA has invested $13.5 million in the effort, and we remain committed to safeguarding Florida against this invasive pest.”

 

Originally from East Africa, the GALS, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to eight inches in length. Each snail can live as long as nine years. GALS are difficult to eliminate because they have no natural predators and reproduce rapidly, with adults laying up to 1,200 eggs per year.

 

Ninety-six percent of cases have been identified due to calls to the helpline. To report a giant African land snail, call the department’s toll-free helpline at 1-888-397-1517. To preserve a snail sample with gloved hands put the snail in a zip-top bag, seal it, and put in a bucket or plastic container. Do not touch the snails or release them in a different location.

 

 

Florida Agriculture Chief issues Zika-based mosquito declaration

 

 

The Zika virus is spread by this type of mosquito. Provided.
The Zika virus is spread by this type of mosquito. Provided.

In response to the continental United States’ first locally acquired cases of Zika confirmed Friday in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam issued a statewide mosquito declaration. This mosquito declaration initiates aggressive mosquito control efforts within a minimum 200-yard radius around a locally acquired case patient’s home.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been testing mosquitoes from around the state at the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, and all samples have been negative for the Zika virus to date.

“We will continue to proactively work with federal, state and local officials to protect Floridians and visitors from Zika,” Putnam said.  “Floridians can do their part by draining standing water surrounding their homes, as it can serve as breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting the virus.”

 

While the virus has been widespread in countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean, this declaration is consistent with Florida’s proactive approach in combating Zika.

 

Florida’s efforts, which are conducted by local mosquito control programs and supported by the expertise provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, include: eliminating larval habitats by emptying standing water, treating water-holding containers with long-lasting larvicide, providing outdoor residential and spatial insecticide treatments to reduce adult vectors, and conducting adult mosquito surveillance to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.

 

While the Florida Department of Health is the lead agency in this public health crisis, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been supporting statewide efforts by: providing technical assistance to mosquito control programs, monitoring mosquito control activities across the state, training pest control companies, distributing BG Sentinel traps used for surveillance throughout Florida, and equipping the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory with the tools needed to test mosquitoes for the presence of Zika.

 

On February 2, 2016, the Florida Surgeon General declared a public health emergency in regards to the Zika virus. Floridians can assist in Zika-related response efforts by draining standing water and allowing officials who are conducting mosquito control efforts to access their property.

 

To access a copy of the mosquito declaration, click here.

 

For more information on the Zika virus, visit the Florida Department of Health’s website at FloridaHealth.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than $55 million worth of marijuana destroyed in Florida in 2015

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Florida’s Domestic Marijuana Eradication Program resulted in the discovery of more than 328 indoor and outdoor grow sites, the destruction of 18,505 marijuana plants and the arrest of 279 people last year. The estimated street value of the seized marijuana is more than $55.6 million, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Monday.

» RELATED: Read The Palm Beach Post’s coverage of medical marijuana in Florida

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services works to prevent the cultivation and distribution of marijuana through the Domestic Marijuana Eradication Program, which is a joint effort with the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration and local sheriff’s offices and police departments in 45 counties across the state.

“By partnering with local law enforcement to detect and destroy illegal marijuana grow operations, we’re making communities safer for Floridians and visitors,” Putnam said.

The Domestic Marijuana Eradication Program provides funds to law enforcement agencies to help offset their marijuana grow site investigations and provides in-depth training to law enforcement officers at no cost to their agency. In 2015, these schools were attended by 87 law enforcement officers from 49 law enforcement agencies, including 26 sheriff’s offices, 22 police departments, and one state agency.

Court overturns state’s approval of proposed Turkey Point plans

FPL's Turkey Point plant overlooks Biscayne Bay.
FPL’s Turkey Point plant overlooks Biscayne Bay.

Florida Power & Light’s quest to add two new reactors and miles of new transmission lines at its Turkey Point plant south of Miami experienced a major setback Wednesday when an appellate court overturned a state decision that would have permitted the reactors.

While the 2014  approval of Units 6 & 7 by Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet found the project would not harm the Everglades  or wetlands and would not impact endangered birds such as the snail kite and the wood stork,  the court disagreed.

To read the 28-page ruling, click here.

The Third District Court of Appeal reversed the state’s approval of nuclear Units 6 and 7 in an appeal brought by the City of Miami, the Village of Pinecrest and Miami-Dade County.

The court remanded the case and found the board failed to apply Miami’s applicable land development regulations, failed to properly apply environmental regulations and erroneously thought it did not have the power to require FPL to install miles of power lines underground at FPL’s expense.

“FPL presented no competent substantial evidence that the project could satisfy the environmental performance standards” of Miami-Dade County rules, Judge Ivan Fernandez wrote in the ruling.

The siting board, which approves new power plants, is made up of Gov. Scott and his Cabinet, consisting of Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The board also approved  FPL’s plan to install miles of new transmission lines, which the court said pose an additional hazard for birds which could collide with the poles and lines.

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said in an email Wednesday, “The Siting Board adopted a well-reasoned decision of the Administrative Law Judge and issued the Certification for these critically important electrical transmission facilities. We are disappointed by the Court’s decision reversing the Siting Board and remanding the matter back to the Siting Board for further proceedings on the transmission facilities. We are reviewing the court’s opinion and will be evaluating our legal options.”

By the end of this year, FPL customers will have paid $247 million towards units 6 and 7. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet issued the operating license for the project slated to be completed by 2028.

Juno Beach based FPL’s Turkey Point plant is home to two nuclear reactors, known as units 3 and 4. The plant’s two-by-five mile unlined earthen cooling canal system has caused an underwater saltwater plume that has spread roughly 5 miles west of the plant, an administrative law judge found in February.

The cooling canals have been linked to pollutants in Biscayne Bay and into ground water, according to data released by Miami-Dade County.

 

Consumer Alert: Beware of Florida vacation package scam

A vacation package scam is ongoing, state officials said Wednesday.
A vacation package scam is ongoing, state officials said Wednesday.
 

 

        

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a consumer alert today warning Floridians and visitors  of an ongoing scam offering fraudulent promotional vacation packages.

Following the travel industry reporting a sharp increase in the number of complaints related to fraudulent Florida vacation packages, the department advises consumers to be wary of robocalls, emails or faxes offering promotional vacation packages purported to have been offered by legitimate travel agencies, such as Expedia, Travelocity, TripAdvisor and more.

 

“Consumers should always be cautious when receiving unsolicited phone calls or emails saying that they’ve won a ‘special promotion’ or ‘free luxury vacation,’” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “An educated consumer is the best defense against fraud and deception, and I encourage consumers to accesses our tips and resources at FreshFromFlorida.com.”

 

Consumers can protect themselves against travel/ vacation scams with the following tips:

·        Find out if the seller of travel is registered with the department and if any complaints have been filed against it.

·        Never give out credit card or checking account numbers over the phone unless the consumer initiated the call and is certain of the company’s credentials.

·        Read the entire contract thoroughly, ask questions and do not sign it if there is any doubt.

·        If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

·        Go directly to the legitimate travel booking company website, such as Expedia.com or Travelocity.com, and contact the company’s customer service department to confirm the promotion.

 

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the department educates the public, investigates complaints and provides mediation on behalf of consumers. The department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers last year from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, health studios, telemarketers, sellers of travel and more.

 

Consumers who believe fraud has taken place can contact the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832). For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.