Growers Discuss Hurricane Irma Losses and Issues

Steve Futch

Growers shared their concerns about numerous Hurricane Irma issues in a grower forum Friday in Arcadia. Multi-county citrus Extension agent Steve Futch summarizes the discussions.

Futch says there was talk about potential disaster relief for growers and crop insurance. There was some discussion about whether there was enough damage to receive crop insurance payments. “I think the consensus was that you need to file (for crop insurance) … because there could be other disasters coming … You need to be sure that you filed and documented your claim,” he says. “I think it would be wise for the grower to go out and photograph his or her location, document fruit drop, look at those areas where you had fruit floating … so that you may be able to better justify a claim in the future.”

He adds, “Many of the growers have been through Charley (a 2004 hurricane), so they understand some of the issues about hurricane recovery” and have instituted recovery processes including straightening trees and fixing pumps.

Futch addresses crop losses. “I think in DeSoto and Hardee counties as you move farther to the eastern side of the county, the fruit drop is greater” than to the west side, he says. “Depending upon your location within those counties, you could have a small loss in that 10 percent range or so if you’re on the west side of the county. If you go to the far east side of the county, your losses are going to be substantially higher, and it could be in the 50 to 70 percent range.”

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Ashley Shafer

Ashley Shafer, production manager of 2×4 Ranch and Grove near Arcadia, estimates total fruit loss in the 667-acre grove at about 30 percent. “We saw a majority of the loss in our earlies (early-season oranges),” she says. “And the flooding was probably from two to four days across the grove, although the water was moving; nothing was stagnant. We were pumping as fast as we could to get it out of there.”

Standing water can damage citrus tree roots, and some growers at the meeting said stagnant water is more damaging than moving water.

“We had a lot of tornado activity that came in and uprooted a lot of trees,” Shafer says. “Obviously, those trees are a complete loss.” She says other trees “look stressed, they feel stressed. They’ve gone through greening; they’ve gone through drought this year. And one more thing, I just feel like, it’s just going to be too much for them, especially if we have some sort of freeze this winter. At this point, I think we’re going to be OK. These groves are strong, and they’re resilient, and they’re going to bounce back.”

Shafer says her company will replant and stay in business. “We’re going to keep on going for it; we’re not going to give up,” she says.

Several growers at the forum expressed concern about the availability of sufficient nursery trees to replace damaged trees. Some reported hearing that some nurseries suffered damage from Irma.

The Arcadia forum was co-hosted by Futch and Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association Executive Director Steve Smith.

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large