Editor’s note: Want to help? The American Logistics Aid Network has a list of supplies and services in need due to Hurricane Ian. Take a look.
- Florida’s iconic orange industry has “experienced what appears to be significant damage” after Hurricane Ian pummeled its way through major growing areas, according to the head of the state’s citrus trade association.
- The storm, one of the strongest to ever make landfall in the U.S., flooded orange groves and tore fruit from trees, according to Matt Joyner, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. Trees can only sit in water for about 72 hours before they are considered unsalvageable.
- “We have extensive fruit on the ground,” said Joyner, who noted Ian ripped through the state just weeks before harvest season. “This is gonna be a tough event for Florida growers.”
Destruction from Hurricane Ian threatens to raise citrus prices and worsen what was already expected to be a dismal harvest.
Prior to the storm, Florida’s growers were on pace to produce the smallest crop since World War II due to the devastating spread of citrus greening, a bacterial disease that causes trees to produce bitter and misshapen fruit. Since the disease was detected in 2005, Florida went from producing nearly 80% of the nation’s non-tangerine citrus fruit to less than 42%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ian stands to further lower production numbers. The storm went “through a lot of the heaviest citrus producing counties in the state,” said Joyner, though it largely spared grapefruit regions near Florida's Indian River. Florida Citrus Mutual is still working to take stock of the extent of the damage, but bridge washouts and other damage to infrastructure have made it difficult to reach farms in hard-hit areas.
The last storm to substantially impact the state’s orange production was Hurricane Irma in 2017. Following the storm, citrus production in the state plummeted 34% compared to the prior season, according to the USDA. The hit to Florida’s southwest and central orange groves totalled about $760 million, the National Hurricane Center reported.
With harvest season in a few weeks, growers have also expressed concerns about potential logsitical delays that could come from extensive damage to certain roads and bridges, Joyner said. Many oranges are sent to manufacturing plants to be processed into juice beginning after Thanksgiving.
“We know there's there are areas where where some infrastructure is gonna have to be put back into place,” he said.
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