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. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project

    Health

    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    A rendering shows what the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will look like when completed in 2019. Local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate as construction begins on the facility, the first piece of the Water Street redevelopment area in downtown Tampa. [Rendering courtesy of the USF Health]
  2. Flooded Withlacoochee River nears crest

    Weather

    The flooded Withlacoochee River neared its projected crest Wednesday, with expectations that the floodwaters will begin to recede by the weekend.

    LUIS SANTANA   |   Times This aerial drone view shows flooding in the Talisman Estates neighborhood along the Withlacoochee River.
  3. Tampa Electric rules, Duke Energy drools, Hillsborough commissioners declare

    Blogs

    TAMPA — The pile on of Duke Energy continued Wednesday in Hillsborough County, where commissioners boasted how quickly most of their constituents had power after Hurricane Irma.

    Duke Energy workers cut tree limbs off a power line on Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma.
  4. Whatever USF has to say about Temple waits till Thursday

    College

    "The holes were wide open. Anyone could have run through them."

    South Florida Bulls cornerback Mazzi Wilkins (23) intercepts a pass during the second half of the home opener for the South Florida Bulls against the Stony Brook Seawolves at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. 'Rick and Morty' Rickmobile is coming to Tampa next week

    Events

    We now have details on when and where Rick and Morty's belching Rickmobile will be when the rolling promo for the cult hit Adult Swim show swings through Tampa on Sept. 27.

    Ricky and Morty fans will head to the Lowry Parcade and Tavern in Tampa on Sept. 27 where a pop-up merch store that will operate out of a Rick Sanchez-shaped truck.