Hurricane Irma a tough blow to Florida agriculture


Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., left, talks with Michael Sparks, the CEO of industry group Florida Citrus Mutual and U.S. Sen. "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", said Putnam.

Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam took an aerial tour to survey areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, including citrus groves in Central and Southwest Florida.

"The primary problem is that the excessive winds stripped the trees of fruit".

The standing water also can be a major source of diseases for citrus trees. The ones that were planted - perhaps 10 percent of them - were "a total loss", he says. "Economically, it's an enormous priority for the state". We are now learning that much of this years' orange crop from Florida was destroyed during Hurricane Irma. "It's probably the worst hurricane we've ever seen", said the extension specialists Gene McAvoy. But the storm affected the state's top five citrus growing counties - Polk, Hendry, Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto - which together account for most of Florida's orange production.

With power and communications still out across much of Florida, officials said Tuesday that getting a full picture will take weeks.

That was orange juice futures' best week since October 16, 2015, when orange juice futures gained more than 16 percent.

"Irma went right up the middle". Hendry County leads the state with 10.1 million citrus trees, according to a US Department of Agriculture report.

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Oranges start growing in the spring and harvest in the fall. Brazilian fresh orange production is forecast at 471 million boxes, up from 352 million in 2016-2017 and the highest total since 2012-2013. The orange crop was worth over $886 million, according to USDA figures, while the grapefruit crop was worth almost $110 million.

Lochridge said the devastating storm "uprooted trees, but that is not as big of a problem, which is good for the growers longer-term". LLC, estimated it lost 75 percent of its early-mid oranges and 65 percent of its Valencias. The hurricane also knocked down sugar cane, which will make harvest more hard.

Another crop hard hit by Irma was Florida's sugar cane, which had a value past year of $561 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In an interview Wednesday, Widenor said CWG didn't revise its initial estimates, but he added that "the ground crews will have a much better feel for it". In many cases those crops aren't in the ground yet, or it's early enough to replant. She said the tomato crop is expected to be light in early November, though officials expect a solid December. "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", Lochridge said. "The labour supply was already very tight, so this is also an issue they're dealing with". Citrus greening disease, which cuts yields and turns fruit bitter, has blighted the crop in past years. "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.

However, orange juice futures have fallen sharply since Monday as destruction from the hurricane appeared to be less than first feared. They spiked last week as Irma bore down but slipped this week.


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