HOMESTEAD (CBS4)- Miami-Dade government executives and farmers gathered in a freeze-destroyed sweet potato field near Homestead Wednesday, an assemblage of folks in dress shoes and work boots with a common goal:  Persuading the federal government to issue a disaster declaration for Miami-Dade and 35 other Florida counties.

A freeze December 15th caused a loss of more than $50 million to the county’s winter vegetable crops.  It wiped out an estimated 80 percent of the string bean crop that was just a couple of weeks from being ready to harvest.  Fifty percent of the corn crop was lost.  Squash, zucchini, bananas, papaya, all were heavily damaged.

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“We’re here expressing our support, our commitment to the farmers,” said County Manager George Burgess, standing at a podium in the potato patch.

“Government is not the sole solution to anything,” Burgess said.  “But there are times when government can step in and can help make a difference at a very difficult time.”

Both the state and the county have officially requested a disaster declaration which would make farmers eligible for short-term, low-interest emergency loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency. The agency also issues grants to help farmers rehabilitate or replace plants along with funding for lost crops.

Farmers say without this help, it could cost them a lot — even their livelihoods.

Grower Angela Delliveneri said she lost at least 75 percent of her vegetables.

“It’s been a disastrous year for us and I don’t know how much more we can take,” Delliveneri said.  “The winter is not over yet, and we’re praying we have better weather.”

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, the state lost $273 million from the December freezes alone – including nearly 9,000 acres of crops.

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Agriculture is one of Miami-Dade’s most significant industries; it employs more than 20 thousand people and has nearly a $3 billion impact on the local economy.

Many farms are mom and pop operations that survive from one crop to the next, and lost many crops to freezes in January and December of last year.

“If we do not get some kind of help or some kind of grant, a lot of the family farms in Dade County will not be around in the next few years,” said Farmer Tina Borek.

The losses for farmers have translated to higher prices for consumers at the grocery store.

“It’s the simple law of supply and demand,” said Kim Booth, the buyer for Norman Brothers Produce on Southwest 87th Avenue.

Fresh corn was selling for nearly a dollar an ear at the landmark market Wednesday.

“This time of year, with beautiful weather, we should have a dozen ears for $2.99,” Booth said, adding that the price of squash and string beans has also soared.

“Pole beans?  There are no pole beans at any price,” she said.

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