Irma ‘lethal’ for many Flor­ida crops

Losses top $2.5B, with or­ange crop hit par­tic­u­larly hard

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION - BY BREN­DAN FAR­RING­TON

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE, Fla. — Flor­ida’s fa­mous or­anges are still fall­ing from trees and rot­ting on the ground weeks af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma, and the state’s agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner said Thurs­day there will be fewer Flor­ida veg­eta­bles on Thanks­giv­ing ta­bles and a short­age of poin­set­tias at Christ­mas.

Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Adam Put­nam and Flor­ida farm­ers up­dated the state Sen­ate Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee that the storm dam­aged crops of all kinds, with losses top­ping $2.5 bil­lion. Losses are re­ported to peanuts, avo­ca­dos, sugar, straw­ber­ries, cotton and toma­toes. The storm also af­fected tim­ber, milk pro­duc­tion, and lob­ster and stone crab fish­ing.

“The fresh win­ter veg­eta­bles that are on peo­ple’s Thanks­giv­ing ta­bles won’t be there this year be­cause of Hur­ri­cane Irma,” Put­nam said. “The losses are stag­ger­ing; in many cases, the tale of those losses will be mul­ti­ple years … . This is more than just dam­age con­tained in just one crop year.”

He said Irma’s path couldn’t have been “more lethal” for Flor­ida agri­cul­ture, with few crops spared. The cit­rus in­dus­try was par­tic­u­larly hard hit, with some es­ti­mates of more than half the or­ange crop lost.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture re­leased its Flor­ida cit­rus fore­cast Thurs­day, es­ti­mat­ing that Flor­ida will pro­duce 54 mil­lion boxes of or­anges, down 21 per­cent from last year.

But the Flor­ida Cit­rus Mu­tual said the fed­eral govern­ment should have de­layed the fore­cast be­cause it’s still too early to tell just how hard hit the in­dus­try was af­ter the storm. It said pro­duc­tion would be closer to 31 mil­lion boxes of or­anges, or a 55 per­cent drop from the 68.7 mil­lion boxes pro­duced in the 2016-27 sea­son.

“Irma hit us just a month ago and although we re­spect the skill and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a re­li­able num­ber in that short time pe­riod,” said Michael W. Sparks, CEO of the Flor­ida Cit­rus Mu­tual.

The agri­cul­tural losses are ex­pected to af­fect con­sumers, but how much so is still to be de­ter­mined.

“I would ex­pect prices to rise as a re­sult of the win­ter veg­etable cap­i­tal of Amer­ica be­ing put out of the pro­duc­tion go­ing into the hol­i­day sea­son,” Put­nam said, but he added there could be a flood of for­eign fruit and pro­duce that could keep prices from ris­ing — some­thing he said could fur­ther hurt Flor­ida farm­ers.

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