After Hurricane Ian, Florida citrus and agriculture struggle

After Hurricane Ian, Florida citrus and agriculture struggle thumbnail

ZOLFO Springs, Fla. — The destruction of Roy Petteway’s citrus growers is only the beginning of the problems.

The fruit strewn about his 100-acre (40-hectare) grove in central Florida since the storm swept through will mostly go to waste. Even worse is the flood and rain water that have weakened the orange trees in ways it is difficult to see immediately.

“For the next six months we’ll be evaluating the damage,” Petteway said in an interview at his farm, where he estimates about a 40% crop loss. “You’re going to have a lot of damage that will rear its head.”

Citrus is big business in Florida, with more than 375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) in the state devoted to oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and the like for an industry valued at more than $6 billion annually. Hurricane Ian caused severe damage to the citrus groves and the state’s large cattle and dairy industries, as well as vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and hundreds of thousands bees that are essential to many growers.

” This year will be difficult, no one is disputing it, but I believe that the passion and tenacity of our citrus industry professionals will make us stronger than ever,” said Nikki Fried (commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services).

The orange forecast for 2022-2023, released Wednesday, puts production at about 28 million boxes, or 1. 26 million tons, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. That’s 32% below the year before and does not account for damage from the hurricane, which will surely worsen those numbers.

Most Florida oranges can be used to make juice. The lower harvest and the still-unquantified damage from Ian will push prices up and force producers to rely more heavily on imported oranges from Latin America and California.

“This is an incredible punch. It’s clear,” stated Matt Joyner, CEO and president of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade organization. “You’ve really got about 72 hours to get the water off these trees before you start sustaining significant damage if not mortality. Trees need water to grow. They don’t need to be standing in water.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who appeared at a Florida Citrus Mutual event this week in Zolfo Springs, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Tampa, said about $3 billion in federal funding is needed to cover costs from loss of crops and trees. Rubio also said that it was crucial not to let the storm destroy agricultural land.

“When land is lost, people can’t continue to do this anymore and the land is taken. “It’s gone,” said the Republican senator. “I’ve never seen a mall turned back into agricultural land.”

Then there are the bees.

The University of Florida estimates that about 380,000 known bee colonies were in the path of Hurricane Ian as it bisected the state. The storm caused damage to the beehives and also blew out blossoms, which led some bees raiding other colonies to get the honey they need.

“Masses are of honeybee colonies that have been submerged in water. The Florida Farm Bureau released a statement. “Bee pollination is critical to the livelihood of our state’s plants and crops, and is just one example of the long-term effects of this deadly storm.”

More than 100 people died in Florida from the storm, about half of those in hardest-hit Lee County, where the powerful Category 4 hurricane came ashore with 155 mph (259 kph) winds on Sept 28.

Hardee county, where Petteway’s cattle and citrus operation is located, was the site of four storm-related deaths. The long-term impacts of the farm industry’s effects will have broad implications on the community.

” If you eat, then you are part of agriculture,” Petteway said, a fifth-generation Floridian who gave a tour of his groves. “We expected a very strong crop this year. It’s just a devastating thing. It’s just an awful thing .”

As Petteway drove on a golf cart through a nearby pasture, he noticed a brand new donkey foal that he hadn’t seen before the hurricane. His wife gave birth to a little girl just over a week after the storm passed.

The people of these rural areas of Florida will recover the same way they have always done.

” This was going to be a good year for a while,” said he. “This is just another hurdle.” This is just another hurdle.”


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