Fires struck California avocado groves in December and Florida citrus growers suffered extensive hurricane damage in September. The USDA said a disaster relief program is open for applications. ( Albert Munoz )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making $2 billion available for eligible producers hurt by 2017 hurricanes and wildfires.

Starting July 16, affected producers can apply for assistance to help recover and rebuild their operations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release. The signup period will run through Nov. 16.

“Hurricanes and wildfires caused billions of dollars in losses to America’s farmers last year,” Perdue said in the release. “Our objective is to get relief funds into the hands of eligible producers as quickly as possible.” 

Perdue said USDA is making immediate, initial payments of up to 50% of the calculated assistance so producers can pay their bills. Later in the year, additional payments will be made if funds are available.

The 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program was authorized by Congress earlier this year by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, according to the release.

Florida state agriculture officials have said that the state’s growers suffered more than $760 million in damage from Hurricane Irma, which hit the state in mid-September last year.

The USDA said eligible crops, trees, bushes or vines located in a county designated in a Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration or Secretarial Disaster Designation as a primary county are eligible for assistance if the producer suffered a loss as a result of a 2017 hurricane. 

Also, losses located in a county not designated as a primary county may be eligible if the producer provides documentation showing that the loss was due to a hurricane or wildfire in 2017. 

A list of counties that received qualifying hurricane declarations and designations is available at the USDA website.

The release said eligible producers requesting funds from the 2017 program will be subject to a payment limitation of either $125,000 or $900,000, depending upon their average adjusted gross income, which will be verified. 

More information on the program is available at the USDA website.

 
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