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Serious Damage to Florida Citrus Crop, Says State Ag Commissioner
Florida, the number one citrus-growing state in the nation, suffered “serious and devastating losses from Hurricane Irma,” said state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam after an aerial tour of groves in central and southwest Florida. The harvest season for oranges and grapefruit normally begins in October, so the storm arrived as the fruit was nearing maturity.
“It’s still too early to know the full extent of the damage to Florida citrus. After touring groves on foot and by air, it’s clear that our signature crop has suffered serious and devastating losses from Hurricane Irma,” said Putnam. Florida grew three out of every five oranges in the country during the 2016/2017 crop year. The crop of 68.7 million boxes was 16% smaller than in 2015/2016, the smallest crop in five years, due to drought and citrus greening disease.
A University of Florida Extension specialist based in LaBelle (a fruit- and vegetable-growing region in southern Florida) told NPR that the hurricane knocked 50% or 60% of the oranges and grapefruits out of the trees. The hurricane also knocked down sugarcane, which will make harvest more difficult. “It’s probably the worst hurricane we’ve ever seen,” said Extension specialist Gene McAvoy.
The USDA traditionally makes its first forecast of the Florida orange crop in October.
Farmers and ranchers affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are being given additional time to apply for assistance and to file claims for livestock losses, said USDA. The department said it will provide additional flexibility to farm loan borrowers. “In addition to efforts being made on the ground to assist producers, we have taken a hard look at our regular reporting requirements and adjusted them so producers can take care of pressing needs first and mostly deal with documentation and claims later,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.