U.S. Agriculture Secretary talks Florida hurricane recovery, USMCA

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Farmers in the Panhandle were devastated by Hurricane Michael and have been undercut by cheaper Mexican crops.

A coalition of Florida lawmakers and state officials met with the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Friday morning to talk about what can be done to help after Hurricane Michael. (MGN)

A coalition of Florida lawmakers and state officials met with the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Friday morning to talk about what can be done to help.

The meeting came just one day after the $19.1 billion disaster relief package was signed into law by the President.

The news came as a relief to many in the Florida Panhandle, farmers in particular, who suffered an estimated $1.5 billion loss of crops in Hurricane Michael.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with a panel of Florida officials Friday to hear what needs are still unmet.

"We want to help people survive, to farm and go another day,” said Perdue.

The disaster relief package included $4.5 billion specifically to help with agricultural losses.

Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, said there is now a sense of urgency to get boots on the ground.

“Cause this is a piece that is literally gonna put money into people's hands that have been dramatically affected and whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Michael,” said Moskowitz.

Perdue said help will be coming quickly.

“If you know the speed of the Federal Government I can assure you we'll beat that by multiples. We expect this to be weeks not months,” said Perdue.

Florida farmers have also been facing stiff competition from cheaper Mexican crops.

Concerns have been raised that there are not enough protections for farmers in the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.

The lack of seasonal protections in the agreement was disappointing to Perdue, but he notes even in the old NAFTA agreement, no such protections existed.

"We were not able and successful in getting in there, but we didn't go backwards,” said Perdue.

Still, the secretary said he’s working with the U.S. Department of Commerce to find solutions to prevent some of the unfair trade practices used by Mexican farmers to undercut U.S. farmers.