Hurricane Irma Smashed Recovery; Aid Needed

Ernie Neffhurricane

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Ellis Hunt

Just before Hurricane Irma whacked Florida, groves and crops appeared to be improving after years of losses from HLB, grower and Florida Citrus Commission Chairman Ellis Hunt Jr. says. Now, he adds, growers need federal aid to recover.

“We had just finished our (crop) estimate and we were showing an increase in Lake Wales,” Hunt says. “Our groves looked noticeably better than they had … And the same with our groves in South Florida, LaBelle and Immokalee. We did not have the PFD (postbloom fruit drop) incidence that really hurt us significantly last year. So our trees were back to normal; tree health seemed to be improving … We were really optimistic … And to have this (Irma) happen just was unbelievable.”

Hunt continues: “As Florida citrus growers always have, we’ve got nothing else to do but to get up and continue to fight. And that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to come back again … We don’t know what the damage is today. It’ll unfold over the next coming weeks and months and perhaps next year. As you look at the flooded groves and see trees, can they come back and put a crop on? What percentage of trees will be lost and won’t put a crop on next year and the following year due to water damage? So it’s going to unfold over several years.”

Hunt says federal aid is absolutely needed. “We need to all reach out to our congressmen,” he advises. “Obviously, our Florida congressmen, they all get it. It’s reaching out to other states, perhaps, that just don’t know, not aware of the impact we had. We’re going to try to get some more of those congressmen to get down to Florida and see this damage.”

Hunt says growers need federal aid “to go forward through this season and next year. Everybody had already spent all their money in production costs … So that money is, a lot of it, on the ground … We’re in desperate need of that congressional help.”

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large