U.S.: “Unanswered questions” remain for Florida blueberry industry after Irma

September 26 , 2017

As was the case with much of Florida’s agricultural industry, the blueberry sector seems to have taken a hit from Hurricane Irma that pounded the state earlier this month. 

The storm was a category 4 when it struck the mainland a couple of weeks ago, passing up through the state’s west coast.

Florida Blueberry Growers’ Association president Dudley Calfee told Fresh Fruit Portal anecdotal reports suggested the level of damage varied widely in the state.

“It runs the gamut,” he said.

“One grower might have lost a few leaves and another grower might have a flooded field, which blueberries don’t like.

“One of our larger growers had 125 acres of plants blown out of the beds. He’s desperately trying to get those reset. There’s really no way to know what’s going to happen with those plants.”

He said many growers based in low-lying areas may have experienced some degree of flooding, and any crop loss would largely depend on how quickly the fields could be drained and the roots dried out.

Another issue was leaves being blown off plants by the strong winds, but it is unclear how severe the effect on production will be.

“If a growers’ lost 10% of his leaves, is that going to hurt his production by 10%? These are unanswered questions we really don’t know. The blueberry industry at the size it’s at now has never been through an event like this,” he said.

A representative of Wish Farms said blueberry growers had lost a “significant amount of leaves”, which she explained could impact the next crop.

“The unknown is the impact of all of the rains on the low-lying blueberry farms around the state. We believe there will be a significant impact, but it’s too early to know,” marketing director Amber Maloney said.

Much of the state’s blueberry production is based in the central and northern regions, he said.

Almost all of the Florida fruit and vegetable industry had been affected by the storm, Calfee highlighted.

“It blew the citrus off the trees and the plastic out of the beds for the vegetable guys, so they’re having to replace that. It touched agriculture all over Florida one way or another,” he said.

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association director of public affairs Lisa Lochridge had earlier said citrus losses in South Florida would likely be around 50-70%.

Calfee went on to say there would most likely be an effect on production volumes next year, but it was unclear whether this would be a moderate or severe drop.

He also urged growers to report their losses to the Farm Service Agency (FSA), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) body.

“If they’re reported now, then they can relate those losses to this weather event,” he said

“One of the problems with [a recent low production year] we had was that all of the growers didn’t report losses so we actually lost a lot of disaster declarations and relief because of underreporting.”

Photo: www.shutterstock.com


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