Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts of Irma

[updated Sept. 18, 6:00 p.m.]

Less than one year after being sideswiped by major Hurricane Matthew, the state of Florida took another big blow from the tropics, this time from historic Hurricane Irma.

The monster system — which ballooned to as much as 500 miles wide — rampaged through the Leeward Islands and the Bahamas as an extremely strong Category 5 storm. Along the way to Florida — after trashing northern Cuba — the hurricane passed over Cudjoe Key, made landfall at Marco Island, and cut a path of destruction coast to coast as it churned northward up the peninsula.

While millions of people prepped and fled ahead of the storm, Florida farmers put in extra time to protect what they could. Gene McAvoy, Hendry County UF/IFAS Extension Agent based in LaBelle and longtime Florida Grower® magazine contributor, was expecting farms in his area to see everything from flooded fields and groves, plastic lifted and torn, plants sandblasted and cut off, citrus trees blown over, branches broken, and fruit blown off trees. At first glance following the storm, he was right.

“Fortunately, we are fairly early in the season with about 25% to 30% of plastic down, but growers have only been planting for about three weeks, so maybe 10% [maybe 15%] of crop is in the ground,” he said. 

How would you define the damage to your farm and/or crops from Hurricane Irma?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Within two days after the storm, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam took an aerial tour to survey areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, including citrus groves in Central and Southwest parts of the state. “It’s still too early to know the full extent of the damage to Florida citrus,” he stated at the time. “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.”

A full week after the storm, Putnam — along with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Tom Rooney, and Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart — surveyed more farm damage and met with affected farmers in Clewiston.

Ray Royce, Executive Director of the Highlands County Citrus Grower Association, says what he is hearing from growers in his area and seeing first hand is not pretty: “lots of fruit on the ground and beat-up trees.”

Royce estimates around 50% crop loss in most groves in Highlands County, with some areas being hit even harder. The fruit that wasn’t initially blown off the trees has been dropping over the last several days due to the major stress dealt by the storm. The fruit still hanging on is yellowing and could likely to drop, too, he suspects. To that end, Royce is encouraging HCCGA members to pick several representative trees in each block and document photographically and track whether or not there continues to be significant additional drop in the coming days or weeks.

His take-home message for now is direct: “Assume nothing and document everything.”

In a memo sent out to Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) members, Mike Sparks, Executive VP, said: “It appears the damage is more intense than we initially believed. There are reports of major tree damage including uprooted trees across the middle of the state and Southwest Florida. Fruit loss is estimated at 50% and higher. In the Indian River area and Southwest Florida groves, there is a lot of standing water and fruit on the ground.”

FCM is pursuing various planting incentive programs at the state and federal level to get citrus trees back in the ground. According to Sparks, a key component to the proposed legislative requests is specific damage information from growers. To help the process along, Sparks is asking growers take a few minutes to fill out a crop damage survey. The questions include:

  1. What county(s) and how many acres do you manage?
  2. Estimate total fruit loss as a percentage
  3. Estimate the acute wind damage to trees as a percentage
  4. Estimate acres in standing water as total acres and as a percentage

Responses should be emailed to [email protected] by Thursday, Sept. 21.

Around the Tri-County Agricultural Area (TCAA) in the northeastern part of the state, farms were in the line of fire from Irma’s ire. According to Bonnie C. Wells, Doctor of Plant Medicine and UF/IFAS Commercial Agriculture Extension Agent based in St. Augustine, the major storm ravaged nearly 200 acres of Asian vegetable crops in St. Johns County. That area also was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Matthew.

“Small acreages of field corn and sweet potatoes also were impacted,” Wells adds.

While there were multiple crops in the ground compromised by Irma’s inundating rain and unrelenting wind, Wells cautions the storm’s ramifications are far from over for growers in the TCAA. “One of the largest impacts for agriculture in the county will be for cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts growers who will have to delay planting by 1 to 2 weeks during the peak fall growing window because of water-logged soils.”

Specialty crop growers of all kinds across the state are feeling the pain. The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) is reporting the state’s many ornamental plant and tree nurseries also have endured significant structural damages and expect sizeable crop loss. Flooding concerns and lack of power are continuing to plague producers, even well after Irma has moved on. “It’s way too early to tally the losses, yet we know most of the state’s nursery and greenhouse crop growers are impacted,” said FNGLA CEO Ben Bolusky. “Almost all have lost some and some have lost all.”

A major disaster declaration was requested by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and granted for the following counties:  Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter, Suwannee, Union, and Volusia.

Going forward, McAvoy says now is the time to assess damage, file disaster claims, replant, and increase fungicide and disease management efforts. “Growers are resilient, and this is not the first rodeo for most,” he said.

This story will be updated as the situation progresses.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts of Irma

Citrus Stories
raindrops in standing water
September 13, 2017
New Guidance on FSMA Ag Water Compliance, Water Testing, and Farm Inspections Announced
FDA issued a rule to extend compliance dates for agricultural water and announced a start date for farm inspections. Read More
citrus grove damage from Irma at SWFREC in Immokalee
September 13, 2017
Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts of Irma
Damage reports starting to flood in from the field following monster storm, and it's not pretty. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
September 11, 2017
The Grower’s Take: Citrus, HLB, and Biological Control
Uncle Matt’s Organic orange juice brand has enjoyed steady growth since its 2002 inception. The brand’s success is due to Read More
September 7, 2017
Summer News Stories that Have Growers Talking
Farming has been in the media spotlight this year. I asked each of this month’s columnists and contributors for their Read More
September 7, 2017
Whose Sustainable Standard Wins?
Retailers’ race to win the most sustainable produce prize leaves growers trying to keep up with fast-developing demands. Read More
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More
Florida oranges
August 31, 2017
Extra Early Florida Citrus Forecast Calling For Sunshine
Marked increase in production predicted for the next crop of oranges. Read More
August 30, 2017
How Harvey May Impact Specialty Crop Growers
The devastating human toll from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey has rightly dominated news coverage. Growers and those who work with them, however, should also think about how this historic storm will also affect them.  Read More
Insect & Disease Update
August 28, 2017
California Extends Citrus Quarantine
A 94-square mile area of San Bernardino, Riverside counties now a part of state huanglongbing quarantine. Read More
Strawberry fieldworker in Florida
August 28, 2017
Specialty Crop Concern Feeds Need to Negotiate NAFTA Now
Although trade talk objectives may not deliver the short-term relief for Florida fruit and vegetable growers, they appear on the right track. Read More
Cannabis plant closeup
August 28, 2017
3 More Florida Growers Given Green Light to Cultivate Medicinal Cannabis
Once exclusive enterprise continues to expand for more seeking to engage alternative crop endeavor. Read More
multiple hands holding a plate full of veggies
August 27, 2017
USDA Releases Software to Help Small Operations with Food Safety Plans
While the free tool was primarily designed for use by small firms, any size manufacturer can opt to use it. Read More
Workers picking in a Florida strawberry field
August 25, 2017
Transcending Farm Labor Crisis No Easy Task [Opinion]
Technology could be on cusp of fixing labor problems for growers of crops that are traditionally hand harvested. Read More
two-spotted spider mite
August 25, 2017
California EPA Seeking to Review Chlorpyrifos
Department of Pesticide Regulation, Office of Environmental Health pursuing health protections. Read More
August 23, 2017
Varroa Mite Researchers Talk High Infestations in Bee Colonies
In 2016, The New York State Beekeeper Tech Team (which is attached to Cornell University’s Dyce Lab Beekeeping Resources) found that Read More