PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
By TAMARA LUSH
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Florida’s agriculture commissioner said Monday that the path of Hurricane Irma “could not have been more lethal” to the state’s farmers and that the scope of damage to the state’s fruits and vegetables is unprecedented.
Commissioner Adam Putnam, along with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, flew over hundreds of miles of Florida farmland to view the damage. Rural communities and farmland were in the path of the devastating storm from south to north.
Putnam said the citrus crop in southwest Florida is particularly devastated. The scope of the damage is more evident this week because the dropped fruit is starting to turn from green to orange, leaving piles of ruined juice oranges in the groves. He added that some groves are still underwater, which will likely kill the trees.
“There are a number of old timers who have seen a lot of freezes and fires and floods, and the consensus of the growers is that this is the state’s most significant crop loss ever,” said Putnam.
Florida is the nation’s largest juice producer. The citrus industry was already battling a deadly disease when Irma hit. Some citrus producers in Southwest Florida say they’ve lost 80-90 percent of their crop, while producers elsewhere say 40 percent was ruined by the storm.
Other crops were also destroyed. Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said last week that reports indicate a 50 percent to 70 percent crop loss in South Florida.
Florida is a key source of fresh fruits and vegetables for the nation in the winter.
Putnam said that most growers who had anticipated getting vegetables on the table for November are probably in trouble.
“They’ll miss their Thanksgiving market,” he said.
Among the hardest hit crops: avocadoes and ornamental plants in Miami-Dade County, along with field crops such as eggplants, tomatoes and bell peppers.
In addition to farmers, people who pick crops, drive produce trucks and process the crops will all feel the downturn.
“This is a major calamity,” said Putnam.
Agriculture, fishing and horticulture contribute $150 billion dollars to the state’s economy.