The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a natural disaster declaration for 19 Florida counties, acknowledging widespread damage by Hurricane Irma.

The declaration lets farmers and ranchers in those areas seek support, including emergency loans, from the Farm Service Agency, according to a news release.

“I thank U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for taking action to support Florida’s farmers and ranchers still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Irma,” Florida agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam said in the release Oct. 13. “Our preliminary estimates peg the total damage at more than $2.5 billion, but it’s important to recognize that the damage is still unfolding.

“Today’s disaster declaration provides much needed support, and I will continue working with (Florida Gov. Rick Scott) and our leaders in Washington to get Florida agriculture the relief it needs to rebuild,” Putnam said.

Citrus industry losses have been projected at $760 million.

The USDA released its first citrus crop estimate last week, but industry members say the department grossly understated the extent of the damage from Irma.

 
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