Hurricane Ian took so much from so many, including hitting one of Florida’s biggest industries; agriculture. The citrus industry was the one that was hit the hardest.
You wouldn’t be able to tell by what appears to be a thriving field of crops, but Jamerson Farms, like many others in Florida, is still feeling the impacts of the storm.
It’s hard to tell now, but their three farms were hit by Hurricane Ian and Nicole. A hit to the tune of one million dollars, according to owner Kim Jamerson.
They aren’t alone. A preliminary assessment of agriculture losses from the University of Florida found more than 700,000 acres of agricultural land were affected by Ian’s hurricane and an additional 500,000 acres by Nicole. Their predicted loss is as much as $1.56 billion.
The crop that saw the worst of it was citrus, with expected losses of up to $304 million.
“The hurricane couldn’t have taken a worse route, and it couldn’t have hit at a worse time. But you know how growers are, they pick themselves up by the bootstraps constantly, and that’s what we’re having to do. I’m sure the industry is going to emerge from this, but this is a difficult time certainly,” said Rick Dantzler, COO of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.
Dantzler says the storms were just another blow to the struggling citrus industry as it also deals with citrus greening. “Truthfully, we’re flat on our backs. The hurricane was a real gut punch.”
Florida’s signature fruit’s long growth time compared to crops like tomatoes or bell peppers doesn’t help.
“You put the seed in the ground or the small plant in the ground, and 90 to 120 days later, you get a crop. That’s not the way it is with citrus, of course. You put that seedling in the ground, and in a couple of years, you get a few pieces of fruit, but it’s not until the grove gets to be four or five years old before it really begins paying the rent,” Dantzler said.
The future is uncertain. The industry is in desperate need of a game changer.
“In the short term, the difficulty is primarily with growers because many are out of money, and they’re either having to borrow money or dip further into family wealth. And until they see a proven way out of this problem we’re having with this disease citrus greening, they’re questioning whether they should continue to pour more money into their operation,” said Dantzler.
Dantzler is confident the future is bright and that game-changer is out there and coming soon, but for now, it’s tough.