Extension Agents Assess Hurricane Damage

Josh McGillFruit Drop, hurricane

“Hurricane Ian has devastated much of Florida’s citrus industry,” said Michael Rogers, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center. “The harsh reality is that the 2022–2023 season will be one of the most challenging that any of us has faced.”

Hurricane Ian knocked Sugar Belle trees down in Hendry County.

Several UF/IFAS Extension agents made early assessments of the hurricane damage in their areas.  

“In general, fruit loss and tree loss in Southwest Florida were severe,” reported Mongi Zekri, multi-county citrus Extension agent for the Gulf citrus region. “Flooding is a problem, too. There is lots of damage to structures (barns, pump sheds, etc.). It will take a long time to recover from this disaster.”

Zekri estimated fruit losses so far in Southwest Florida at 80% to 90% for grapefruit, 30% to 60% for tangerines, and 40% to 70% for oranges. He said healthy trees with thick, dense canopies were “relatively more damaged than sick trees with thin canopy.” Zekri explained: “The thick canopy made the wind more damaging by laying the trees over. The thin canopy trees allowed the wind to go through them without laying them over. Healthy trees are also more loaded with fruit.”

“Unfortunately, my counties are hurting,” stated Ajia Paolillo, multi-county citrus Extension agent. About six days after Hurricane Ian hit on Sept. 28–29, Paolillo had only been able to get to Hardee County and even there, access was very limited due to road closures. “I cannot even get to DeSoto, the flooding is so bad there,” she added. “I have gotten reports the same as everyone else: wind damage, flooding and fruit drop. I am very concerned about the trees that are sitting in water and the root damage they are incurring.”

Multi-county citrus Extension agent Chris Oswalt reported some areas with limited tree damage and significant fruit loss. He said citrus damage was most severe in areas closest to the storm: “southern Hillsborough, over to Alturas, Ft. Meade, down to Bereah over to Frostproof.” Alturas, Ft. Meade, Bereah and Frostproof are in southern Polk County.

Hamlin oranges and varieties with larger fruit sizes seemed to exhibit more initial wind-induced fruit drop, Oswalt noted.

“I can’t recall ever seeing this much water over such a large area,” Oswalt said. “As for flood damage, that would depend on the duration, temperatures and how fast the water flows out of an area.”

“In our area, damage was limited to scattered citrus branch twisting, fruit drop and moderate damage to eucalyptus trees surrounding citrus groves,” said Amir Rezazadeh, fruit and field crops Extension agent in the Indian River region. He had seen significant fruit drop during September, so doesn’t think the drop in his region is a result of the hurricane.

Growers with hurricane Ian damage are encouraged to complete a UF/IFAS survey here.

About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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