As Florida fruit and vegetable growers begin to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, initial signs are that the state’s already struggling citrus industry has taken a big hit.
The hurricane was a Category 4 when it struck the mainland late last week, passing up through the state’s west coast.
“The biggest impact from Irma was on our citrus industry,” Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association director of public affairs Lisa Lochridge said in a statement sent to Fresh Fruit Portal.
“The primary problem is that the excessive winds stripped the trees of fruit. Uprooted trees don’t seem quite as big of a problem, which is good for growers longer-term.”
However, she went on to say many groves were flooded and it would take growers a while to get all of that excess water pumped out.
In the meantime, standing water in groves can increase the chance of disease to the roots.
Harvesting was due to begin in November, and the state’s volumes are now set to be much lighter.
“The damage estimates vary, depending on the area of the state hit. South Florida damage is more severe. Based on reports from the field, it’s estimated that there’s a 50 to 70 percent crop loss in South Florida, depending on the region,” she said.
“Losses are slightly less going north, but Irma cut a powerful swath through the epicenter of Florida’s citrus-growing region.”
The representative added it would take some time for the value of the loss or the number of acres affected to be quantified.
As for other fruit and vegetable crops – particularly tomatoes and strawberries – there was damage to fields that were about to be planted, with plastic ground covering and irrigation systems ripped up.
“As a result, the tomato crop is expected to be light at the first part of November, but volume should build and we expect a solid December,” she said.
“Strawberry growers expect to be able to recover quickly and stay on their timetable to be harvesting on time.
“A big concern for growers is finding available workers to help them in their recovery efforts. The labor supply was already very tight, so this is also an issue they’re dealing with.”
State Ag Commissioner inspects fields from above
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam took an aerial tour today (Sept. 13) to see areas impacted by the hurricane, including citrus groves in Central and Southwest Florida.
“It’s still too early to know the full extent of the damage to Florida citrus,” Commissioner Putnam said in a release.
“But after touring groves on foot and by air, it’s clear that our signature crop has suffered serious and devastating losses from Hurricane Irma.”
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