Hurricane Wilma hits Florida farms

In late October, Florida fruit and vegetable producers still were trying to tally damages from the winds and rain of Hurricane Wilma, according to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA).

Most agree the storm was more damaging than expected over a wider area, and it could have an impact on volume and pricing for Florida crops for the next few weeks.

Following helicopter tours of storm-damaged areas in southwest and south Florida, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said he estimated Hurricane Wilma caused more than $1 billion in damage to the state's agriculture industry. Crop damage alone is expected to be in the hundreds of millions.

“The timing of this hurricane made it especially damaging,” said Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs for FFVA. “It came when growers were in full production, with crops in all stages of maturity.”

By comparison, last year's series of hurricanes hit relatively early in Florida's production cycle, allowing growers to replant quickly so they could try to meet their market window. Hurricane Wilma, hitting Florida farms when it did, will cause significant disruptions to the usual harvest schedules.

Tomato farms in southwest Florida had fruit blown from the plants. In some cases, entire fields were flooded. If plants recover, it will be several weeks before farmers can produce a marketable crop.

In the Everglades Agricultural Area, the storm destroyed leafy vegetable crops and blew sweet corn and sugar cane plants onto their sides.

For citrus, grapefruit took the heaviest toll, with as much as 75 percent of the fruit knocked to the ground in parts of some groves. In many parts of southern Florida, greenhouses were seriously damaged and expected to be without power for several days.

“These greenhouses are a source for young plants used by growers, so if they're out of production, that could delay our growers' ability to get back into production,” added Gilmer.

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