How Hurricane Irma Impacted Florida’s Crops

published Sep 15, 2017
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(Image credit: Natalia Bratslavsky)

Hurricane Irma left a lot in devastation: people were stranded and homes, businesses, and farms were destroyed. The latter leaves the future of produce especially vulnerable.

Gene McAvoy, a specialist on vegetable farming at the University of Florida, told NPR that orange and grapefruit groves that were approaching harvest were impacted, as the storm left “50 or 60 percent of the fruit lying in water [or] on the ground.”

Florida’s citrus production (the state produces half the nation’s citrus fruits) is already threatened by citrus greening disease. And it’s not just the fruit — trees are in jeopardy as well, since roots submerged in water for more than three to four days can destroy trees.

“Before Hurricane Irma, there was a good chance we would have more than 75 million boxes of oranges on the trees this season; we now have much less,” Shannon Stepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, tells CBS.

Aside from citrus fruits, roughly 25 percent of the nation’s sugar comes from sugar cane fields that were knocked down by Irma. “We won’t know the exact extent of the loss until it’s harvested,” McAvoy tells NPR.

When it comes to vegetable farms, there’s some good news. Since the storm arrived in Florida prior to when crops in the region were planted, there was limited loss. Of the ones planted, a mere 10 percent were lost in the storm.

That said, unplanted land also suffered a setback. Prior to planting, farmers prepare fields in various ways like placing plastic on rows for fertilizer and pesticide application. The strong winds ripped off the protective plastic. This was the case for strawberry fields and tomatoes.

Overall, there are no final numbers for how much crop was lost. According to Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, preliminary reports suggest South Florida suffered anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent crop loss. Meanwhile, Joel Widenor, co-founder of Commodity Weather Group, estimates orange crops to suffer 10 percent loss, grapefruit somewhere between 20 to 30 percent loss, and sugar canes around 10 percent loss.