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Friday, March 31, 2023

Florida Citrus and Agriculture Struggle After Hurricane Ian

The catastrophe for citrus producer Roy Petteway has only just begun as thousands of oranges were dispersed like so many green and yellow marbles on the ground by Hurricane Ian’s strong winds.

The fruit that the hurricane left scattered around his 100-acre (40-hectare) orchard in central Florida will mostly be wasted. However, the flood and storm waters that adversely affected the orange trees in ways that were not immediately apparent are far worse.

Petteway, who estimates a 40% crop loss, said in an interview at his farm, “For the next six months we’ll be reviewing the damage. There will be a lot of harm that will manifest itself.

With more than 375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) in the state of Florida dedicated to oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits for an industry valued at more than $6 billion yearly, citrus is major business in Florida. The state’s substantial cattle sector, dairy operations, agricultural crops including tomatoes and peppers, as well as hundreds of millions of bees that are crucial to many producers, were all severely impacted by Hurricane Ian, as were the state’s citrus groves.

Nikki Fried, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, stated, “This year will be challenging, there is no denying that, but I believe in the perseverance and passion of our citrus industry professionals to come back stronger than ever.”

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s orange projection for 2022–2023, output will total roughly 28 million boxes, or 1.26 million tons. Without taking into account storm damage, which will undoubtedly make those statistics worse, it is 32% lower than the previous year.

The majority of Florida oranges are used to make juice, so this season’s drastically reduced harvest, coupled with Ian’s still-unquantified slam, will drive up prices and force farmers to rely even more heavily on California and imported oranges from Latin America, which will increase their dependence on imports.

This hit you in the stomach. There is no question about that, according to Matt Joyner, president and CEO of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade group. You really only have a few days to get the water off these trees before you start suffering serious harm, if not death. To grow, trees require water. They are not need to be submerged in water.

Sen. Marco Rubio of the United States stated that $3 billion in government financing is required to offset costs associated with crop and tree damage during his appearance this week at a Florida Citrus Mutual event in Zolfo Springs, which is located approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Tampa. Furthermore, Rubio stressed to the audience of 500 attendees the need of preventing the loss of agricultural land due to the storm.

“When you lose land, people can no longer afford to continue doing this, and the land is stolen. The Republican senator declared, “It’s gone. “I’ve never seen a mall converted back to farmland,” you say.

The bees are another factor.

About 380,000 known bee colonies, according to the University of Florida, were in the path of Hurricane Ian as it cut the state in half. Because of the storm’s devastation to the blooms and the beehives itself, some bees were forced to invade neighboring colonies in search of the honey they needed to survive.

The Florida Farm Bureau released a statement stating that “huge numbers of honeybee hives inundated in water are in trouble.” Bee pollination is essential to the survival of the plants and commodities in our state, and it is only one example of the lasting consequences of this catastrophic storm.

About half of the storm’s fatalities in Florida occurred in Lee County, which was severely struck. On September 28, a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane made landfall there with winds of 155 mph (259 kph).

Four of the storm-related fatalities were reported in the county of Hardee, where Petteway has a citrus and cattle business. The long-term implications on the agricultural sector will have significant effects on the community in addition to this tragedy.

Petteway, a fifth-generation Floridian, stated during the tour of his groves, “If you eat, you’re part of agriculture.” “This year, we were hoping for a really excellent yield. We regrettably have no control over it. Simply said, it’s heartbreaking.

Petteway was riding about on a golf cart when he observed a brand-new donkey foal in a nearby field that he hadn’t seen before the hurricane. Coincidentally, his wife gave birth to a girl who is now a little over a week old not long after the storm passed.

He asserted that the residents in these rural areas of Florida will bounce back just like they always have.

He declared that this would be the first successful year in a while. “We’re a tough group. This is simply one more obstacle.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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