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Treasure Coast citrus farmers say lack of funding could hurt their industry

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 21:14:36-04

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Citrus farmers say their industry is taking another hit, and this time it’s financially.

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Behind Al’s Family Farm in Fort Pierce is a man named Jeff. He knows all things citrus. You could say it’s in his blood.

"We’ve been around since the 70’s my dad Al started it," Jeff recalled.

Since then, their operation has grown from a farm to a store and even a small restaurant on the site. But his family’s citrus groves are more than a full time job for Jeff. It’s his life.

"We’re just all about being fully interested in maintaining the citrus heritage that Florida is known for," Jeff said.

It’s not an easy job. From hurricane damage to a crop disease called citrus greening, many of these farmers say they can’t catch a break. And now their industry is taking another blow, but this time Mother Nature isn’t the cause.

"Losing funding hurts all growers," said Doug Bournique, the Executive Vice President of the Indian River County Citrus League.

The state's Department of Citrus was only able to squeeze out around $930,000 for this year’s budget, a $4.1 million cut.

Bournique said that money is needed to help with advertising so local stories sell products from local growers.

"A reduction like this impacts the sales of all citrus products, fresh and processed," Bournique said.

Bournique added that could lead to slightly higher prices and fewer options for you at the grocery store. He says since 2000 here locally we’ve gone from 40 packing houses to just six. What was once a $2 billion industry just on the Treasure Coast is now a $500 million industry. But farmers like Jeff are staying optimistic.

"We’ve always been resilient, we’ve always been willing to fight because when it’s in your blood this is what we do," Jeff said.

Shannon Shepp, the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Citrus, released this statement to WPTV regarding general revenue funds:

"The Florida Citrus industry received considerable support from both the Legislature and Governor during the recent session. While funding for the Florida Department of Citrus may be lower, it is still extremely impactful for growers who continue to recover from Hurricane Irma and combat citrus greening. Further research and marketing are essential to securing the future of our state’s signature crop. We are thankful Florida’s leaders recognize the value this industry brings to the state."