First reports emerge of damage to Florida citrus industry from hurricane

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First reports emerge of damage to Florida citrus industry from hurricane

The first reports of damage to the Florida produce industry from Hurricane Ian have started to emerge. 

One of the biggest hurricanes to ever strike Florida, Ian made landfall near Ft. Myers on Sept. 27. Southwest Florida is a major producer of much of the state’s wintertime vegetable production. 

The still-powerful hurricane moved north, through the core of the state’s citrus groves.

Alico Citrus, one of the nation’s largest citrus producers, said on Sept. 30 that the full impact of the storm is still being assessed, but that is believes the lessons learned over the past 125 years, especially since Hurricane Irma in 2017, allowed it to be better prepared prior to landfall and to more rapidly begin recovery after impact. 

"Our 48,900 acres of citrus groves, which are located in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands and Polk Counties, sustained hurricane or tropical storm force winds for varying durations of time," the company said.

"Field assessments are ongoing, but initial observations include significant drop of fruit from trees and the magnitude of this drop will be formally calculated by our staff and our insurance companies over the coming weeks. As of the time of this press release, initial inspections indicate that substantially all of our trees remain intact, with the exception of a single grove in Charlotte County that was in the direct path of the storm.

"We believe this indicates that Company-wide, the greater impact of the storm will be on production in the current season, and possibly next season, rather than on long-term production."

Alico Citrus added that based upon prior experience with serious storms of this nature, it expects it will take at least two seasons for the groves to recover to pre-hurricane production levels.

"Although past experience is not a predictor of future results, Alico saw its production increase 9% above pre-hurricane levels within a single season following Hurricane Irma in September 2017," the company said.

On Sept. 29, the Orlando-based Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) posted a number of news reports on the damage inflicted on its industry by Hurricane Ian.

  • On Sept. 29, The Wall Street Journal reported: “Significant flooding and wind damage has rocked Florida orange groves, where the crop was already shaping up to be the smallest since World War II.

“Inspecting the damage in Polk and Hardee counties from Hurricane Ian today, Matt Joyner, the head of trade group Florida Citrus Mutual, estimated that 75% to 80% of the oranges he saw were blown off of their trees and on the ground.”

  • Bloomberg published Sept. 29 that “ominous signs are already emerging” as Florida orange growers begin to assess their groves. 

At third-generation citrus grower Peter Spyke’s groves, some 200 miles north of where Ian struck the coast, many of the orange stems are twisted and damaged. That means the fruit won’t ripen, he told Bloomberg. “Fruits are still on the trees, but they don’t have the ability to sustain life from the tree itself.” The full extent of the hurricane’s destruction won’t be revealed for days or weeks, he added.

The hardest-hit of the main producing areas lie further south of Spyke, in Polk, De Soto and Hardee counties, according to Donald Keeney, senior meteorologist at Maxar Technologies Inc. Together, they account for roughly 36% of Florida’s citrus production, according to Bloomberg.

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