(Sept. 27) The produce industry in Florida, roundly knocked about by a series of hurricanes, is hurting — and in need of help.

Citrus took the brunt of hurricanes Charley and Frances, with an estimated $500 million in damage and 75% of the important Indian River grapefruit crop gone.

Vegetable and tropical fruit producers also got hit to the tune of $50 million.

Now, Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Hawks says there aren’t enough federal funds to adequately assist in recovery. Indeed, he told a group of citrus growers Sept. 20 that “we cannot address this strictly from a federal perspective.”

Congress is considering a federal appropriations bill, but the funds are likely to be sharply contested between hurricane victims and Midwestern states still recovering from droughts.

It has been suggested that Section 32 funds be diverted to devastated Florida growers. This is not the solution. Those funds exist to help reduce oversupply in the marketplace.

Florida will be undersupplied this season, and maybe even into the future. Section 32 funds should go to legitimate efforts to influence the marketplace.

Facing a dearth of federal help, Florida’s legislators must recognize the value its produce industry brings to the state.

In this case, action cannot be preceded by thoughtful deliberation. Sunshine state growers need relief, and they need it now. Florida must provide whatever assistance it can, as fast as it can.