By Ajia Paolillo
Although October is toward the end of hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, it can still be a very active month for storms. These storms can range from tropical depressions to hurricanes.
Major concerns for citrus growers during a storm include personnel safety, damage to trees, fruit loss and damage to equipment and structures. Being prepared can help mitigate damage and flooding, and possibly aid in faster recovery.
Prior to start of hurricane season, ensure your revenue and inventory records are up to date. This information will typically be required for disaster relief funds, assistance programs and crop insurance claims. Review your crop insurance policy and understand what is covered under your plan.
Establish an emergency action plan that lists all employees’ contact information, roles and responsibilities. Employees should receive training on unfamiliar equipment they may need to use or duties to perform during or after the storm.
In the grove, preparation should include maintenance of drainage systems, including ditches, culverts and swales. By keeping these areas clear of weeds, sediment and debris, the system will be able to work more efficiently if severe flooding occurs during a storm. Installation of observation wells can aid in the monitoring of the water table after flooding.
Maintain access roads in and out of the grove. Damage can occur during a storm but may be minimized by having roads in good working order from the start.
At the beginning of hurricane season, stock up on supplies to keep your operation running after a storm. Supplies such as fuel, wood and drinking water are hard to find leading up to the storm, so stock up early. You may want to purchase spare parts for tractors, sprayers or well pumps ahead of a storm as these may be difficult to find when you need them the most.
Store equipment in barns, and secure buildings to minimize damage and potential theft. Properly store all pesticides in a locked facility that meets storage specifications to prevent containers from being exposed to the weather.
After a storm has passed, take time to assess the grove and identify hazardous situations that may be present. Take photos and document damage for insurance claims and disaster assistance programs.
If flooding has occurred, wait until the waters have receded before taking action in the grove. Water should be removed from the grove within 72 hours, using pumps if necessary. After four days, citrus tree roots become damaged from the anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) conditions. Once standing water has receded, the soil may still be saturated just below the surface, which can also lead to damaged roots.
Signs of root damage are wilting, sour odors from roots and soil, and sloughing of the root cortex. Phytophthora spp. related diseases can become more pronounced with root damage, and brown rot of fruit may become an issue, especially if it was present in the past. Monitor propagule levels by taking soil samples before applying chemical treatments.
Wind damage to trees and fruit can occur depending on the severity of the storm. Trees may be leaned over or have sustained broken branches. As soon as possible, place trees upright. The root systems of these trees likely sustained damage and should be carefully monitored. If necessary, prune trees to help restore proper shoot-to-root ratio.
Irrigation lines and micro sprinklers may be damaged and moved from fallen trees. Replace and reposition this equipment as necessary to ensure trees receive appropriate irrigation. Application of light, frequent irrigation and fertilization can also help trees to recover after a storm.
Ajia Paolillo is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension multi-county citrus agent based in Arcadia.