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.

 

 

Does your dog have it? ‘Dog flu’ cases confirmed in Florida

Seven cases of dog flu have been confirmed in Florida, UF officials said Tuesday.

 

The first seven cases  of a highly contagious virus known as “dog flu” have been confirmed in Florida, and test results from six more dogs are pending, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Tuesday afternoon.


All dogs being treated are in stable condition.

The H3N2 canine influenza  virus has already infected thousands of dogs in more than 30 states, and also infects cats. There is no evidence that H3N2 infects people.

The dogs being treated reportedly participated in dog shows in Deland, or in Perry, Ga., or live in the same household as dogs who competed in those

 The virus causes a respiratory infection. Common symptoms include sneezing,  nasal discharge, and frequent coughing that can last for two weeks or more.
Many dogs have a fever, decreased appetite and lethargy during the first few days of the illness, UF officials said. Some dogs are affected more seriously and develop pneumonia that requires hospital care.
While H3N2 has been circulating throughout the country since 2015, this is the first time it has been confirmed in Florida. This is a highly contagious virus. Fortunately, the mortality rate is low. Dog owners can have their veterinarians vaccinate their dogs against canine influenza viruses.

If dog owners suspect a case of dog flu, they should call their veterinarian prior to going to the clinic in order to decrease the chances of spreading the virus to other animals at the clinic. Many dogs have a fever, decreased appetite and lethargy during the first few days of illness. Most dogs recover at home without any complications. Some require hospitalization.

More information on canine influenza can be found here: http://hospitals.vetmed.ufl.edu/canine-influenza/

 

Worried about credit/debit card skimmers? Here’s what to do.

Skimmers such as this one found at a Florida gas station are used to steal credit and debit card info.

As motorists fill up their vehicles’ tanks for Memorial Day travel, they’re reminded that skimmers could be lurking at the pump.

So far this year, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has found and removed 185 skimmers. Thieves place the  devices  on gas pumps to steal consumers’ debit and credit card information.

 The number of consumers victimized by each skimmer is estimated to be about 100 per device, with an average of $1,000 stolen from each victim, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Friday.

Travelers can take the following steps to avoid skimmers at gas stations:

  • Pay in cash inside the store to ensure credit card information stays safe.
  • Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed and has not been tampered with.
  • Use a gas pump closer to the front of the store. Thieves often place skimmers at the gas pumps farther away from the store.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection, and the money is not deducted immediately from an account.
  • If using a debit card at the pump, choose to run it as a credit card instead of putting a PIN number in. That way, the PIN number is safe.
  • Monitor bank accounts regularly to spot any unauthorized charges.
  • Consumers who suspect their credit card number has been compromised should report it immediately to authorities and their credit card company.

Putnam worked with the Florida Legislature last year to change Florida law to better protect consumers from identity theft at gas station pumps by:

  • Requiring self-service fuel dispensers to use certain security measures to prevent theft of consumer financial information;
  • Increasing enforcement authority against those who possess or traffic fraudulent credit cards;
  • Reclassifying the crime of unlawful conveyance of fuel, which increases the maximum sentence; and
  • Increasing the offense level of the crime, which affects sentencing guidelines.

Consumers who suspect that a gas pump has been tampered with should contact the gas station manager, local law enforcement or 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).

The department regularly inspects gas stations and analyzes samples of petroleum products to ensure consumers are being offered quality products at a fair measure. For more information, 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.

Camels, parrots, dogs, cats departing the Keys checked for screwworms

The Latin name for the New World Screwworm, Cochliomyia hominivorax is loosely translated as "eater of man."
The Latin name for the New World Screwworm, Cochliomyia hominivorax is loosely translated as “eater of man.”

As part of the ongoing New World screwworm eradication efforts in Monroe County, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has assessed more than 15,000 animals for screwworm at the Animal Health Check Point, located at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo.

The department checks all animals traveling north out of the Keys for screwworm to prevent the spread of the infestation to the mainland. It has been more than 50 years since the New World screwworm has been found in Florida, and it could devastate the livestock industry if it spreads.

“We’re aggressively working to eradicate the screwworm in Florida,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. “I thank Keys residents and visitors for stopping at the Animal Health Check Point because even the smallest number of flies on the mainland would threaten our livestock industry.”

The Animal Health Check Point is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since setting up the animal health checkpoint, agricultural law enforcement officers have assessed animals ranging from camels to parrots.

Early detection of screwworm infestations in pets, animals and livestock is key to successfully treating the wounds for a full recovery. A screwworm infestation is easily identified by:

  • Wounds infested with maggots;
  • Blood tinged discharge and foul odor;
  • Discomfort;
  • Decreased appetite of milk production; and
  • Seclusion from the rest of the herd or flock.

Residents who have warm-blooded animals (pets, livestock, etc.) should watch their animals carefully and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or non-Florida residents should call (850) 410-3800.  Visitors to the area should ensure any pets that are with them are also checked.

In early October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of a New World screwworm infestation in the Key Deer population on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. New World screwworms are fly larvae (maggots) that can infest livestock and other warm-blooded animals, including people. They most often enter an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh.

In addition to outreach efforts and screwworm analyses at the interdiction station, the department is working with the USDA and other partners to implement the sterile fly technique. More than 124 million sterile flies have been released from ground sites. The infertile male flies mate with flies in infested areas to gradually breed the fly out of existence.

The sterile fly technique remains the most proven and effective tool since successfully eradicating the last screwworm infestation decades ago.  Today, USDA and its partners maintain a permanent sterile fly barrier at the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia to prevent the establishment of any screwworm flies that enter from South America.

For more information and to sign up for weekly screwworm email updates, visit FreshFromFlorida.com/screwworm.

 

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.

Ripped off? Here’s where to call to file a complaint in Florida.

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Been ripped off by a moving company, fitness studio, telemarketer or other business?

If you’re wondering where to file a complaint, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints.

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.

You can also check to see if a business is licensed and whether any complaints have been filed against it. The department regulates charities as well. If the complaint is about a business it doesn’t regulate, the complaint will be referred to the appropriate agency.

During November, the department recovered more than $300,000 for Florida consumers.

In 2015, the department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from all types of businesses such as vehicle repair shops, sellers of travel and more.

During the month of November, the department:

·        Recovered $302,940 on behalf of Florida consumers;

·        Received 2,603 complaints;

·        Initiated 188 investigations;

·        Arrested 14 individuals;

·        Provided assistance to 21,043 consumers through the 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and emails; and

·        Added 11,169 telephone numbers to Florida’s Do Not Call List.

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the department educates the public, investigates complaints and provides mediation on behalf of consumers. The department’s call center is staffed with trained analysts who can respond to questions about programs and regulations under the department’s purview, provide information on a wide variety of topics or direct callers to the appropriate government agency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two-thirds of U.S. drivers do not trust auto repair shops, AAA says

Find a reliable auto repair shop before your car breaks down.
Find a reliable auto repair shop before your car breaks down.

If you have found an auto repair shop you trust, consider yourself lucky.

Most motorists don’t. A recent AAA survey found that two of three U.S. drivers do not trust auto repair shops, citing overcharges, recommendations for unnecessary services and poor past experiences for their lack of confidence.

“For most motorists their vehicle is their lifeline which they depend on daily to operate safely on the road,” said Montrae Waiters, AAA spokeswoman. “Finding a reliable auto repair shop is important when you find yourself stranded on the side of the road.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also has advice about vehicle repairs.

Find out if a repair shop is properly registered with FDACS and if any complaints have been filed against it. This can be done by searching our Business/Complaint Lookup or by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352). If there are complaints on file, be sure to find out how they were resolved.

To find a trustworthy auto repair shop, AAA suggests that drivers do their homework:

  • Look for a repair shop before issues occur. Ask family and friends for recommendations and visit AAA.com/autorepair to locate a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility near you.
  • Research potential repair shops and find out how long they have been in business. This can be a good indicator of shop quality. Also, look into how they deal with consumer complaints. The Better Business Bureau, State Department of Consumer Affairs or Attorney General’s office can provide those complaints.
  • Visit the auto repair shop for a minor job such as an oil change or tire rotation. While waiting, talk with shop employees and inspect the shop’s appearance, amenities, technician credentials, and parts and labor warranty. If you find the service to be good, stick with them. Build a relationship with the technician so they can get to know you and your vehicle.
  • Check for certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
  • If your vehicle is under warranty, you may be required to go to a dealership for warranty repairs. Routine maintenance may be performed anywhere.
  • Some repair facilities specialize in certain makes. Check to make sure they have the latest training and equipment needed to repair your vehicle.

With today’s cars collecting a variety of data about the health of the vehicle, drivers need a trusted repair facility more than ever. “Connected cars” with built-in diagnostic capabilities can alert drivers to vehicle trouble and help repair shops quickly and accurately address issues. Unsurprisingly, given concerns around data security, AAA found that the majority of U.S. drivers want the ability to direct their vehicle’s data to the repair shop of their choice – the trusted facility with whom they have built a relationship.

 

 

Screwworm that can infect humans, livestock, pets, found in Key deer

The Latin name for the New World Screwworm, Cochliomyia hominivorax is loosely translated as "eater of man."
The Latin name for the New World Screwworm, Cochliomyia hominivorax is loosely translated as “eater of man.”

New World screwworm, a devastating disease that can  infect livestock, wildlife, pets and  humans,  has been confirmed in Key deer from a wildlife refuge in Big Pine Key, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

It’s the first infestation in the U.S. in 30 years, and the first in more than five decades in Florida. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal.

In response to this infestation, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam has declared an agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County. It  can be accessed here.

More information on the screwworm is available at FreshFromFlorida.com.

“The screwworm is a potentially devastating animal disease that sends shivers down every rancher’s spine. It’s been more than five decades since the screwworm last infested Florida, and I’ve grown up hearing the horror stories from the last occurrence,” Putnam said.

“This foreign animal disease poses a grave threat to wildlife, livestock and domestic pets in Florida. Though rare, it can even infect humans. We’ve eradicated this from Florida before, and we’ll do it again. We will work with our partners on the federal, state and local level to protect our residents, animals and wildlife by eliminating the screwworm from Florida,” Putnam said. “The public’s assistance is crucial to the success of this eradication program.”

In addition to the samples from three Key deer that were confirmed positive for screwworm, there are other Key deer from the same refuge and a few pets in the local area that exhibited signs of screwworm over the past two months, though no larvae were collected and tested in those cases. All of the potentially affected animals are from the same area of Big Pine Key and No Name Key. There have been no human or livestock cases, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said.

Animal health and wildlife officials at the state and federal levels are working jointly to address these findings.  Response efforts will include fly trapping to determine the extent of the infestation, release of sterile flies to eliminate the screwworm fly population and disease surveillance to look for additional cases in animals.  The initial goal will be to keep the infestation from spreading to new areas while eradicating the New World screwworm flies from the affected Keys.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has established an Animal Health Check Zone from mile marker 91 south. Animals traveling north will be given health checks at an interdiction station located at mile marker 106 to ensure that they do not have screwworm. This checkpoint will ensure that the screwworm does not travel north and infest other areas of Florida.

Residents who have warm-blooded animals (pets, livestock, etc.) should watch their animals carefully and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or non-Florida residents should call (850) 410-3800.  Visitors to the area should ensure any pets that are with them are also checked, in order to prevent the spread of this infestation.

New World screwworms are fly larvae (maggots) that can infest livestock and other warm-blooded animals, including people. They most often enter an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh.  While they can fly much farther under ideal conditions, adult flies generally do not travel more than a couple of miles if there are suitable host animals in the area. New World screwworm is more likely to spread long distances when infested animals move to new areas and carry the pest there.

 

In the 1950s, USDA developed a new method to help eradicate screwworm using a form of biological control, called the sterile insect technique, which releases infertile male flies in infested areas. When they mate with local females, no offspring result. With fewer fertile mates available in each succeeding generation, the fly, in essence, breeds itself out of existence.  USDA used this technique to eradicate screwworm from the U.S. and worked with other countries in Central America and the Caribbean to eradicate it there as well.  Today, USDA and its partners maintain a permanent sterile fly barrier at the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia to prevent the establishment of any screwworm flies that enter from South America.