Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hurricane Irma a tough blow to Florida agriculture

Gov. Rick Scott looks out the window of a C-130 as he assesses damage to the Florida Keys during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Irma delivered a serious punch to Florida agriculture but producers and officials have only barely begun to assess the damage to the citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops. 
[Jesse Romimora/Governor's Press Office via AP]

Gov. Rick Scott looks out the window of a C-130 as he assesses damage to the Florida Keys during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Irma delivered a serious punch to Florida agriculture but producers and officials have only barely begun to assess the damage to the citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops. [Jesse Romimora/Governor's Press Office via AP]

Florida fruit growers and farmers have just barely begun to assess the damage Hurricane Irma wrought on the state's citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops — but they expect it will be significant.

With power and communications still out across much of Florida, officials said Tuesday that getting a full picture will take weeks. What remains unknown: exactly how much damage the crops suffered, how much producers might recover from crop insurance and how much more people might pay for their morning orange juice.

"Irma went right up the middle. It didn't matter where you were, because Irma was so wide," said Mark Hudson, the Florida state statistician with the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Extension and Farm Service Agency agents have just started evaluating the losses, he said, "if they can get fuel and if they can get out."

Florida's orange harvest usually begins around Thanksgiving, and about 90 percent of it becomes juice. Projections for the 2016-2017 growing season had called for 68.5 million boxes of oranges and 7.8 million boxes of grapefruit. The orange crop was worth over $886 million, according to USDA figures, while the grapefruit crop was worth nearly $110 million.

"Before Hurricane Irma, there was a good chance we would have more than 75 million boxes of oranges on the trees this season; we now have much less," said Shannon Stepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. Initial reports indicate Irma's winds knocked lot of fruit to the ground but uprooted relatively few trees, which will help growers in the long term.

Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said reports indicate a 50 percent to 70 percent crop loss in South Florida, depending on the region, with losses "only slightly less going north." Joel Widenor, co-founder of Commodity Weather Group, forecast the overall orange crop loss at 10 percent and the grapefruit loss at 20 percent to 30 percent. He estimated sugar cane losses at 10 percent.

The sugar cane harvest was expected to begin Oct. 1. Producers had anticipated a "very good" crop of about 2.1 million tons, said Ryan Weston, CEO of the Florida Sugar Cane League. Aerial observations this week should start showing how much was knocked down, he said.

Florida is a key source of fresh fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country in the winter. In many cases, those crops aren't in the ground yet, or it's early enough to replant. But particularly for tomatoes and strawberries, Lochridge said, some fields about to be planted were damaged. So she said the tomato crop is expected to be light in early November, though officials expect a solid December. Strawberry growers expect to recover quickly and harvest on time, she said.

"A big concern for growers is finding available workers to help them in their recovery efforts," Lochridge said. "The labor supply was already very tight."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue its first forecast of Florida's 2017-18 citrus crop on Oct. 12. The state's industry has been decimated in past years by citrus greening disease, which cuts yields and turns fruit bitter. The harvest has fallen by more than 70 percent since the disease was discovered in Florida in 2005, Lochridge said, and the resulting higher prices for consumers haven't made up for the losses to growers.

Chet Townsend, editor of the Citrus Daily newsletter who also owns a 5-acre grove near Fort Denaud in southwestern Florida, got his first good look at the damage driving around his area Tuesday morning. "I've never seen so much fruit down, even after a freeze," he said.

Hurricane Irma a tough blow to Florida agriculture 09/13/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 7:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the …

    With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.
  2. How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles

    Wildlife

    The Florida Aquarium has been collaborating with Cuba's National Aquarium since 2015 to help save coral dying throughout Caribbean waters.

    The beaches of Cuba's Cayo Largo are home to a large population of green sea turtle nests. The Florida Aquarium will lead eco-tours of Cayo Largo next year that will help protect the turtles and fund research.  [Avalon Outdoor]
  3. Photo of the Day for September 22, 2017 - Willets taking flight

    Human Interest

    Today's Photo of the Day comes from Dan Cleary of Madeira Beach, FL.

  4. Why a true freshman quarterback doesn't kill FSU's title hopes

    College

    Florida State's James Blackman will make history Saturday when the No. 12 Seminoles host North Carolina State in their first game after Hurricane Irma.

    Florida State quarterback James Blackman warms up before a game against Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. When Florida State's Deandre Francois, Georgia's Jacob Eason and Texas A&M's Nick Starkel all got hurt in their respective season openers, true freshmen ended up taking over the rest of the way.  (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)
  5. Puerto Rico could face months without electricity after Hurricane Maria (w/video)

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm's devastation.

    A pregnant woman carries empty plastic bottles to collect water a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. [Associated Press]